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Somehow I got it in my head during this crazy month of NaNoWriMo (current word count: 33,550 words) that I could sign up for a race and run it “just for fun,” using it as a training run. I get bored running the same old routes, and I love running someplace new. So why not take advantage of the free race registration I won for the 1st Annual City Farm Turkey Trot 10K, right?

Well, it turns out I am pretty much incapable of running a race “just for fun” (people who know me well are probably saying “duh” right about now). I tried, I really did, but when I woke up at 5:30 a.m., my race jitters trembled on high alert. I drank a quick cup of coffee and headed out the door by 6. On the 40-minute drive to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, I ate as much of a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a banana as I could stomach, which turned out to be not much with those darn race jitters. I enjoyed watching the sun rise, and with little traffic at that hour I arrived at Griffith Park without hassle.

Parking at the race start at The Autry, a museum of the American West, was easy, free and abundant (there’s additional free parking at the Los Angeles Zoo across the street).

Back in the Saddle Again

“Back in the Saddle Again”

Mother Nature blessed us with perfect running weather — high 50s and overcast. Earlier in the week the daily high temperature had hit 94 degrees, so we got lucky!

Packet pick-up had been offered the day before at A Runner’s Circle in LA, but you could also pick up your bib on race day — a huge plus that saved me from spending an hour and a half in the car on Friday. I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and did not have to wait to get my bib. The reusable goody bag came with a protein bar sample, some coupons, and a plain white tee with the turkey logo printed in orange. They’d run out of my size, which does not really bother me, it just means my daughters now have another large cotton nightgown!

How could I best describe the size of this inaugural event? Let’s call it “a three porta-potty race” (and note that I never had to wait more than five minutes in line).

The master of ceremonies for the event, the actor Alan Naggar, was a hoot and kept us all entertained both before the race as we awaited the start, and after the race while the results were compiled. I also very much enjoyed and appreciated the pre-race warm up led by a charismatic, fit young woman. It felt like a wonderful community event as nearly the entire crowd participated in the warm up. I’ve never seen that happen before at a race, and it put a smile on my face.

The race started and finished in the parking lot by The Autry Farmers Market. This small stretch of asphalt was the only pavement for the entire race:

start and finish City Farm Turkey Trot

Within yards the course veered left onto a short stretch of grass, then followed the wide, hard-packed dirt path around the golf course and sections of the Los Angeles Zoo. At some points on the trail the surface softened into loose sand-like patches, but I found it all easy to navigate. The paths were so wide you could drive a car down them, and the course elevation was flatter than many road races I’ve done. It was a trail race in the most basic sense of the word — a race on a dirt surface as opposed to the road. If you’re new to running on trails or you’re looking for a trail race personal record, this is a great race for you. If you’re a die-hard trail runner who wants some challenges and the rewarding views of a hill climb or two, you might not be happy with the race (and you might want to check out the Griffith Park Half Marathon Trail Race, as reviewed there by Striding Mom). The most challenging part of the race came at a small creek crossing, where if you timed it right you could hop across on two carefully placed sand bags. There’s a short part of the race that parallels the freeway for a bit, and you do need to watch out for “horse apples” here and there, but otherwise I found the trail to be scenic and enjoyable.

Overall I can’t say enough good things about the race. For a first-time event, the City Farm organizers did a fantastic job coordinating the race. I had no trouble following the course, which I had worried about because the first loop follows the 5K race course, then branches off for the full 10K course. Aid stations were well-stocked and well-placed, and the signage was appropriate and manned by volunteers. My only suggestions for next year (and if you know me, you know I never can resist offering suggestions for every race to improve in my race reviews) are for organizers to improve the monitoring of who completed the 5K versus the 10K (apparently some racers switched courses at the last minute — something out of control of the organizers but perhaps it could be monitored at the 5K turnoff by observation of the race bibs) and the recording and dissemination of the race results. Race results should be posted the same day of the race, and should be segregated by 5K versus 10K, and delineated by gender and age groups (not just the top three winners by age group, but listing all the Women ages 40-49 and their placements in that group, for example). But seriously, I do not criticize the organizers at all. It was a fun community race to support the cause of reducing obesity. I would absolutely do it again if the race fit into my schedule.

And as for my personal performance, you ask? My glowing review might just have a little to do with this:

3rd place finish at City Farm Turkey Trot

That’s right, that medal shows I came in 3rd place in my age group, the old lady field of women ages 40 to 49. Can I just tell you how ridiculous I felt waiting around to see whether or not I placed in my field? Thank goodness I actually received a medal! I later deduced that I came in 3rd of 15, the benefit of a three-porta-potty race. While I waited for the results, I enjoyed the post-race oranges and bananas and protein bars, and a free full-sized Voskos Greek yogurt sample from a booth at the Farmers Market. I also took advantage of the fact that the restrooms at The Autry opened up and I could change into dry, warm clothes after the race.

If I have the opportunity to do the race again in the future, I would try to make a day of it, bringing along the family to shop at the farmers market, then touring the Los Angeles Zoo. It’s a great cause, a great first trail race, and fun community event.

P.S. My time was 50:26.8, a PR for me at the 10K distance over my La Habra 10K road race from when I first started racing about two years ago).

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You can read about the fabulous start to my third full marathon in Long Beach Marathon Recap — Part I.

As you might recall I’d run the first half of the race in 1:51:57. My goal for the race was to beat my personal record of 3:57:29 from Mountains2Beach. In order to do that I’d need to run the second half in 2:05:31 or less.

Miles 14, 15, 16 (8:31, 8:34, 8:30)

The first half of the Long Beach course is so nice that it’s no insult to say that the second half is not as spectacular. On this section you’re running through a nondescript part of the city. I simply focused on keeping pace and running steady.

Miles 17, 18, 19 (8:35, 8:59, 8:28)

Around mile 17 you enter the Cal State Long Beach university campus. It’s nice to see some college kids out early on a Sunday morning to cheer on the runners. Unfortunately that hill during mile 18 is tough. On the plus side I used the subsequent downhill to pick the pace back up and break through the wall that I started to hit around mile 18 in my last full marathon.

Miles 20, 21, 22 (9:06, 9:31, 9:41)

Here you’re passing back through that same part of town.

Thumbs-up at Mile 20

Thumbs-up at Mile 20

It got harder and harder for me to keep running strong around mile 20. I wouldn’t say I hit the wall though, because when that happened in my last full marathon my times dipped into the 10s and 11s, whereas here I managed to stay in the 9s.

There is a steep, quarter-mile hill as you approach mile 21. I am actually pleased to see that split of 9:06 for that mile.

I struggled to take in liquids around this point, both because my body was tired of drinking that much and because I was working so hard by this time that I was having trouble catching my breath after running and drinking at the same time. Somewhere around mile 21 I made the executive decision to walk for about 5 seconds every mile so I could drink a few much-needed sips of sports drink and then resume running. I have no shame about not running the whole way and in retrospect I consider it a very good decision to adopt the strategy to walk for my fuel breaks.

I also grabbed a couple of cups of water on the run and dumped them over my head. The sun was out in full force by this time and I was feeling the heat.

Miles 23, 24, 25 (9:50, 9:57, 10:04)

Right before mile 24 the full marathon course joins back up with the half marathon course at its 10.5-mile point. I’m sorry to say this about what is overall a very nice course, but this joining back up with the half marathon course just plain stunk. By that point in the half marathon race I’d say the vast majority of half marathoners were walking. Maybe it just seemed like that to me in my frustration with the giant sea of people in front of me. It was such a tough time in the race anyway and it was not fun to deal with having to dodge people who were walking in the middle of the course and did not have the courtesy to walk to the right-hand side.

Mile 26 and the Finish (9:41, and for the last .44 by my Garmin: 8:48)

In spite of the crowds I managed to pick the pace back up a bit for mile 26. I basically told myself to embrace the pain and let my legs go.

It was a huge relief when the course split off into two different chutes just before the mile 26 mark and very few runners split off with me to the full marathon chute. At that point the course turns off Ocean Boulevard and heads down a very welcome hill right into the finish chute. I turned on the speed and with a huge kick at the end I brought my pace down into the 8s. I felt like I was flying at the finish and it was wonderful to hear the announcer say my name!

Of course as soon as I crossed the timing mats I came to a stumbling stop and could barely walk. Funny how you can run at what feels like a blistering pace for 26.2 (or 26.44 miles by my Garmin) miles and yet struggle to walk as soon as you stop running.

I was so thrilled to be done that I forgot to stop my Garmin until after I got my medal. I knew I’d beaten my former personal record of 3:57:29 but I wasn’t quite sure by how much. My watch said 3:54 something by the time I stopped it. I later got an email from the timing people saying my time was 3:53:27, but it turns out that was my gun time and my official net finish time was 3:52:42! That’s a PR by 4 minutes 47 seconds. That might not sound like much but it’s huge for me. My goal pace for the race was 8:35 and I ended up averaging 8:52. I achieved my “A” goal of running a personal best time, and also achieved my “B” goal of not bonking. While I ran the second half of the race significantly slower than the first (about 9 minutes slower, in 2:00:55 compared to 1:51:57), I wouldn’t say that I hit the wall, certainly not anything like I did in my second marathon.

Recovery

Best of all, I met up with my family and I felt well enough to walk back to the hotel with them without visiting the medical tent this time. I now believe that the uncontrollable shaking I experienced in Ventura after Mountains2Beach was due to underfueling. This time I stuck to my pre-race and race nutrition plans and that paid off. I ran just as hard this time, but with more training and better fueling, I stayed quite strong through the end and my tank wasn’t empty when I finished.

I feel a need to give an unsolicited shoutout to the C2O Coconut Water sponsors. That cold can of cononut water tasted so good at the finish line that I drank the whole thing right down within seconds. I don’t think I could have tolerated another sip of traditional electrolyte sports drink and I was grateful to have that instead. There were other great treats given out at the finish line too but frankly I could not tolerate eating any solid food. I had exerted myself so hard, left it all out on the course, and — let’s just be real here — I was trying not to throw up. So it was: coconut water = liquid gold; my favorite post-workout protein bar = dirt.

All in all I’d call it a hugely successful race. Ask me if I’d recommend Long Beach to a friend and I’d say yes! (More review to come in another post. I know what you’re thinking but yes it is possible for me to have more to say!)

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It’s two days after the 2013 Long Beach Marathon and the experience still feels surreal in a good way. Anytime I wonder if it really happened though, my sore muscles remind me of the reality!

Race Expo

My family dropped me off at the Convention Center on Saturday at 5 p.m. with just an hour to spare before the expo closed. I don’t like to cut it that close but that’s what a Fit Fun Mom does when her eldest daughter has a Saturday tennis match (she won!) and her middle daughter has ballet rehearsals for the Nutcracker. Thank goodness the drive to Long Beach only took 45 minutes and there was zero wait to pick up my bib once I got there. T-shirt pickup was a breeze as well, and as a bonus I actually like the short-sleeved women’s fit blue tech shirt with a nice design wrapping around the bottom.

I’m not a huge fan of expos in general but I did wander around. Lucky for me I happened upon the booth for the Clif Bar Pace Team. They were offering free pace bands and I quickly snatched one up for a 3:45 marathon. I’ve never seen those offered before. I know you can print your own pace wristband or order a pace temporary tattoo, but what a nice touch for the sponsor to offer free pace bands at the expo!

Race Hotel

The main hotel was booked by the time I got around to investigating places to stay and it was just as well because I ended up using Marriott Rewards points to book a free night at the Renaissance, which is within easy walking distance of both the expo and the race start (let me tell you though, it feels like a lot longer walk when you’re doing the “marathon shuffle” back from the finish line!)

Pre-Race Carbo-Loading

I booked an early reservation at La Traviata for some fish, pasta and bread for Saturday night dinner. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my main goals for my third marathon was to focus on pre-race and race nutrition and do my best not to bonk during the race. I planned to eat a dinner with lean protein and plenty of carbs at about 6 p.m., followed by an early bedtime.

I got to sleep around 9:30 and felt ready to get up before my alarm even went off at 3:45 a.m. It wasn’t hard at all to get up. The hard part was trying to choke down a bagel with strawberry jam, followed by some oatmeal and a banana. Based on information from The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition: A Cutting-Edge Plan to Fuel Your Body Beyond “the Wall”, I had calculated exactly the number of grams of carbohydrates I should consume two hours before the race based upon my body weight. It turns out that eating that much is a lot easier said than done though. Before a race, my body is busy emptying out, if you know what I mean, and really is not all that interested in taking anything in. Only the banana tasted good and the rest tasted like cardboard (even though I’ve had no problem eating those foods before long runs, when I’m not suffering from race jitters!) I washed what I could down with a cup of coffee and called it good.

Starting Line

I was out the door by 4:30 a.m. and at the start by 4:45 a.m. With an impressive row of porta potties, I never had to wait more than a few minutes (I imagine it might have been a different story when the masses of half marathoners showed up for their 7:30 start after the 6 a.m. full marathon start). I entered the corral at 5:30 a.m. and seeded myself near the 3:45 pacer. I eventually set my throwaway clothes in a pile off to the side to be picked up for donation. It wasn’t chilly, which didn’t bode well for cool race temperatures. Still it was gorgeous out in the pre-dawn. I chatted with a very nice man next to me about how this would be his 44th marathon. I only wish I’d gotten his name so I could check up on him after the race. We said hello again at the 7-mile mark but I never saw him again.

We were all quite disappointed when the race start was delayed 20 minutes due to waiting for the police to secure the course. I certainly understand that need and I can see how it’s an even bigger issue in a port city like Long Beach, but when you’ve timed your race nutrition down to the minute it’s a bummer to wait that long. Still, everyone stayed in good spirits and all the runners were very well behaved during the mass start.

Miles 1, 2 and 3 (8:33, 8:40, 8:45)

Part of my “do not bonk” plan was to go out 5-10 seconds slower than 8:35 race pace for the first three miles. The course felt a little crowded for the first several miles and I basically went with the flow. It helped that I hadn’t wanted to go out fast because it helped me resist the urge to waste energy by dodging and passing other runners.

Miles 4, 5, and 6 (8:26, 8:20, 8:27)

The first half of the Long Beach course is gorgeous. You get treated to a spectacular view of the Queen Mary and a fireboat spraying all of its hoses high in the air in tribute to the runners. There was still a marine layer of clouds covering the sun and it was perfect running weather to start. I felt lucky to be there, running someplace new to me and feeling good on fresh legs.

Miles 7, 8 and 9 (8:18, 8:27, 8:35)

At mile 7 you hit the beach path. I’d heard in prior years, before they split the half and full marathon start times, this part of the course could be a bottleneck but it wasn’t (except where pace groups took up the whole path, and I just stayed a nice distance behind the 3:45 pacer). I saw my family just after mile 7 and they handed off a bottle of Fluid to me.

All smiles on the beach path at mile 7. I wore neon pink so my family could see me a mile away (their words)!

All smiles on the beach path at mile 7. I wore neon pink so my family could see me a mile away (their words)!

I got lots of “Go Mama” and “I love you” and it was a huge boost to me — and to many others around me who heard all the happy chatter!

Miles 10, 11, 12 (8:33, 8:27, 8:31)

At about mile 10.5 the marathon course splits off from the half marathon course. Since the half marathoners had not started with the full, it was easy to follow the full marathoners and the signs for the well-marked course. As we headed out toward Marine Stadium, the sun started to peek through the clouds. I tried to put on my sunglasses but they were so sweaty from sitting on top of my head that it wasn’t worth putting them on (and I eventually chucked them at my support team at mile 20!)

Mile 13 and the Half Marathon Point (8:33)

I felt great for the first half of the race and thoroughly enjoyed it. After the 13th mile, my mindset changed and while I was still enjoying the race, the intensity of my focus increased. I had crossed the half marathon timing mat at a gun time of 1:52:42, which was 1:51:57 chip time. My family met me with another bottle of sports drink and I was ready conquer the second half of the course.

For the recap of the second half of the race, continue reading at Long Beach Marathon Recap — Part II.

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Yesterday morning as I pulled out of my driveway at 5:55 a.m. to head to the Spring Blast Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, I still had a major case of race jitters. Usually my race jitters flare up the day before a race and I manage to beat them back into submission by race day. Not so this time. I had to resort to an out-loud pep talk with myself in the car: “You will do your best and that’s all you can do. You are nervous because you’ve trained so hard and you want this to go well. You haven’t tapered for this race, and it’s ‘just’ a training run. I know you want it to go well because that will boost your confidence for the full marathon, but really your goal is to do your best, enjoy the race, and not push yourself to the point of injury.” The self-talk sort of worked to calm my nerves, but not completely, as evidenced by my need to thank the nice people of Carl’s Jr. for the use of the restroom at 6:20 on the way to the race. And my need to visit the beach bathroom when I got there. But once I was parked in the right parking lot and made my way to where the race started, I did finally pull myself together and get my game face on.

I feel like I’ve been running and racing for a long time, but in reality it’s only been two years since I challenged myself to run 30 miles in 30 days. In those two years since, I’ve come a long way. Just last month I ran 133 miles in 30 days, and the month before that, 141 miles in 31 days. Still, I haven’t run many races. I ran my first half marathon just over one year ago at the OC Half (race recap here), and my first full marathon last November at the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race recap here). So, this Spring Blast Half Marathon would only be my second half marathon.

The race is a small event put on by Rocket Racing Productions, which is headed up by two runners themselves, Michelle and Mark. They put on low-cost, timed fun runs in Southern California about 5-7 times per month. That’s what’s so great about it — when I searched for a local half marathon taking place on the day of my scheduled 13-mile run, I easily found a match! And you can’t beat the price at $31 for the half, $42 for the full marathon option, $23 for the 10K and $34 for the 30K.

Parking is free in the lot at Sunset Beach behind the Travelodge. The race starts at the Huntington Beach multi-use path.

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

The 12 racers checked in with Michelle at 7 a.m. and Mark started the race with a countdown promptly at 7:15. There were no bibs or timing chips (a stopwatch is used to time the race from the starting call). I made a point to check out some of the other racers so I would recognize them on the course and I could give them a thumbs-up or a “great job” to cheer them on the way. The lack of people cheering along the course is the one downside to the race (well, that and the occasional smell of lighter fluid from the beach campers). The beach path is open to everyone and you would never know a race was going on. I love a smaller race but I’ve come to appreciate the energy boost I get from random strangers along the way! Thank goodness a lovely young woman saw some of us booking it at mile 7 and she called out: “You guys are amazing!”

The half marathon course consists of two 6.55-mile out and back loops on the course (the full marathon is, you guessed it, four 6.55-mile loops). While that might sound a little dull it wasn’t at all and it really helped break up the race into manageable pieces. The run out was into the slightest of headwinds with a low bridge at mile 2.5 and a little uphill to the turnaround cones. That meant that on the way back it was payback time with a speedy run back to the bridge and the flat course back to the aid station at mile 6.55.

All the goodies at the aid station

All the goodies at the aid station

I’d left my own special bottle of Fluid (with a cute little bow on it to identify it as mine) but there was plenty of water and Gatorade along with gels, bananas and granola bars on the aid table. I took my own green apple PowerGel with caffeine at mile 6.

After starting the race out at about an 8-minute pace I quickly reined myself back in to 8:35, the targeted pace for the training run. I kept up with that pace pretty well most of the way and only started to struggle on the slight uphill from mile 9-10. Once I hit that second turnaround near mile 10, I got a little boost from the downhill but it got harder and harder to keep pace. That’s where the pep talk started again (this time in my head). “Don’t give up the pace now. Keep going. Only 3.1 miles left. Leave it all out on the course. You can do it. Push yourself!” For miles 10 and 11 I pushed to keep it between 8:35 (target) and 8:47 (my pace from my first half marathon). At mile 12 I gave it my all for a big push to the end. I tried not to even look at my Garmin and just go as fast as I could go. I wanted to come in overall somewhere between 1:52:36 (an 8:35 pace) and 1:55:10 (my time from my first half marathon). I ended up hitting 1:53:34 (an 8:40 pace) for a PR by a minute 36 seconds!

While the race course was relatively easy, the race for me was tough. I pushed myself hard to hit the pace and it took all I had physically and emotionally. Of course I felt terrific emotionally when I finished, and even felt pretty good physically too. No injuries and just the usual hobbling soreness, part of which I fended off with an ice bath in this:

Nature's ice bath

Nature’s ice bath

I hit up the aid station for a banana and a granola bar and I chatted with Michelle and Mark, who both happen to be racing at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon too! Good luck guys and thanks for a great race!

Happy Sunday everyone (and a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother runners and triathletes out there!)

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My body finished racing the Brea 8K about four hours ago but my mind is still racing LOL! To sum up: gorgeous race weather (51 degrees, light wind), well-organized race, slightly hilly course, user error when I didn’t quite manage to hit “start” on my Garmin but that trusty GPS watch still paced me to a PR! In spite of my pre-race jitters and Garmin snafu, everything came together for a wonderful race.

I didn’t sleep well last night (although when I did sleep, I dreamt I was eating donuts and dreams just do not get better than that!) I don’t know whether it was the race jitters, the salt I had with the Goldfish I ate while I watched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for family movie night, or that little nap I took earlier in the day, but the night was not exactly restful. I should have added to the post on dealing with pre-race jitters: Do not panic if you cannot sleep well the night before the race. It’s the sleep you get two nights before the race that carries you through the event. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

I got out of bed at 5:15 a.m. and made plain oatmeal and coffee with almond milk. I drank about 20 ounces of water two hours before the race. I headed out the door at 6:50 and arrived at the race at 7:10 (gotta love a local race!) There were no lines at the porta potties (I call that a personal victory already) and by 7:15 I was chatting up my half-marathon running coach Stephanie and my classmate Tina. It helped to calm my nerves to talk with them, and it certainly didn’t hurt to hear about Tina’s 10-minute PR at the recent Tinkerbell half! Super impressive to cut off nearly a minute per mile!

Half an hour before the 8 a.m. race start, Stephanie and I did a warm-up jog around the first little loop of the race course. I like to do a dynamic warm up before all races but I do not necessarily warm up with a jog as well before longer distance races like a half marathon or full marathon. For an 8K, it helps me to jog so that when that starting horn goes off, my muscles are warmed up enough to tolerate a fast start.

In light of last year’s crowding at the start, I positioned myself closer to the front this year, right at the front of the 7-minute mile pack. Those were some dang serious (and nervous) runners and we all took off at a 6-something pace. I quickly realized that was too fast for me to sustain (as if!) and I dialed it back into the 7-minute range. My goal was to keep my pace between 7:39 and 8:00, aiming for an overall time under 40 minutes, and if not under 40 at least under my 41:35 time from 2012. As I said, I goofed at the starting line and did not manage to hit “start” on my Garmin Forerunner 110, but it still showed me my pace and I did eventually start it properly.

The course has some hills, nothing terrible, and I used the downhills to my advantage by keeping my feet quick and light, then powered up the hills at a steady pace, paying attention to keeping my effort level steady rather than pushing to keep up the pace up the hills. Just about halfway through the race there is a hill fondly named “Heartrate Hill” and that steady slow climb challenged me but I knew it would payoff with another downhill after that and we’d be over halfway done. With two miles to go I concentrated on keeping the pace steady in the 7s with only a few dips into the 8-minute mile range. With one mile to go, I pushed hard, and with half a mile to go I gave it my all. There wasn’t a whole lot left in the tank at that point, and I was super happy to round that last bend in the mall parking lot and see the balloon arch over the finish. I could see the clock said 38:30-something and I sprinted to see if I could get in under 39 minutes. I crossed the finish line and celebrated being done and frankly, not throwing up. Hooray for leaving it all out on the course (but not literally all, if you know what I mean)!

I’ve hit “refresh” on the race results about a million times today and finally my official results came up at about 6:20 p.m.:

Chip time: 38:42 (a big fat PR over last year’s time of 41:35)
Clock time: 38:52
Overall place: 431 of 2726
Women’s rank: 95 of 1466
Females 40-44 division: 5 of 180 <— Do you have any idea how happy this makes me?! Happy tears, that's how happy.
Pace: 7:46 minutes/mile = 7.7 mph

"SoCal's Finest Finish" lived up to its claim again this year. The expo boasted the typical water, oranges and bananas, but the main attractions came in the form of Slater's 50/50 hamburgers, Chilled Swiss Oatmeal (a European muesli made with low fat yogurt, rolled oats, green apples, bananas, currants, dried cranberries, and skim milk) from Corner Bakery, pizza from California Pizza Kitchen, Rubio's, Jamba Juice smoothies, and Farrell's ice cream to name a few. The expo offered something to please everyone. If chili doesn't appeal to you after a race, you can grab a chocolate chip cookie. Looking for something healthier? Try a whole organic apple from the local market. The only limiting factor for me was how much I could carry in my hands!

After more chatting with Stephanie and others from A Snail’s Pace running shop, I saw Mike and my girls looking for me. What a nice surprise! We got a quick family photo and headed out for brunch as a treat for everyone. TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Brea puts out an amazing brunch buffet. At $35.99 for adults, it cost more than the Brea 8K entry fee, but gosh darn it, the pecan cinnamon rolls alone made it all worth it. And the mimosas. And the cocktail shrimp.

All in all a great race day! I leave you with my favorite race sign from today: “That’s not sweat, those are tears from your fat cells crying.”

Did you race or run this weekend? Tell me about it!

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Brea 8K 2013 logoAre you racing the Brea 8K this year on February 24, 2013? I highly recommend the Brea 8K. It’s a well-organized race with a fun finish line expo that features tons of free food from many well-known vendors. The 8K (4.97 miles) distance is unusual and makes for a nice challenge — not so fast-paced as a 5K but not such a big commitment as a 10K or half marathon. The 2013 race will be the 22nd annual running of the race.

Race Fee: The fee for 2013 is $30 for adults and $25 for minors (there’s a $5 price increase after February 20). The kids’ 1K fun run is $12 and includes entry to the finish line food expo. I’d say this is a fair price for a well-organized race with a fantastic finish line expo. Plus, you can feel good about supporting this local race that benefits the arts and academic programs at Brea Olinda High School.

Packet Pick-up: You have two options for packet pick-up — on Friday evening at Brea Olinda High School or on race morning at Brea Mall at 6:30 before the 8 a.m. race.

Race Parking: Parking is free and could not be any easier at the Brea Mall and Brea Marketplace (near the Target across from the mall). I arrived half an hour before the race start and had no trouble finding a parking place within easy walking distance of the start.

Pre-race: You’ll find typical long lines at the porta potties but the facilities were adequate and close to the race start.

The course: The course has a few slight hills but I would not call it challenging. You can check out the exact route here. There are three water stations on the course. I carried my own water though so I cannot speak to how well they were managed. I can say that February makes for nice racing weather in Brea — not too chilly but not warm either. Bring a throw-away jacket for before the race and ditch it before the start.

Bling: Unless you make it on the podium there’s no medal for the race but I have to say that does not bother me at all. You do get a cotton t-shirt with race registration and there are some vendor freebies at the finish line expo in addition to the goody bag from packet pick-up.

Finish line expo: The Brea 8K boasts “SoCal’s Finest Finish Line” and I have to agree with that statement! There were all sorts of free food treats available in the massive finish line expo at the Brea Mall parking lot. Last year’s food sponsors included Panera Bread, Jamba Juice, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, ChickPita, Corner Bakery Cafe, Mother’s Market & Kitchen, Ralphs, The Melting Pot, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, Olive Garden, Hot Dog on a Stick, California Pizza Kitchen, Pinkberry, Tacos & More, Rubios, BJ’s and Sprouts. Just note that to enter the food expo, you have to have a race bib (so that means no family and friends unless they’ve registered for the race or the kids’ fun run).

Things You Should Know: Dogs are allowed to participate in the race if their owners keep them on a leash and clean up after them (although dogs are not allowed in the finish line food court). Strollers are also permitted (although for the child to enter the finish line expo she or he must be wearing a race bib as well).

Ways to improve the race: The only thing that bothered me was that I lined up with the 7- to 8-minute starting sign and there were a ton of people who were slower than that in that area. I ran the race at a pace of 8:21 and I should have started a couple people back from the starting line. I ended up dodging people, even some people walking from the start, for the first two miles of the race. Without setting up corrals I’m not sure how this could be improved, but it’s at least something to pay attention to as a participant.

Best part about the race: You’ve gotta love a well-done, community-supported race. I’ve never been to a better finish line food expo.

Would I do it again? You betcha! I’ll see you there this year!

For more on the Brea 8K you can read my race recap from the 2012 Brea 8K.

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The HITS Palm Springs triathlon takes place this coming weekend. I’m not racing it again this year since it’s too close to the marathon I did 19 days ago (no, I will not ever stop bringing that up in all its glory!) Instead, it’s time for me to flashback to last year for a recap and review of my first Olympic distance triathlon. It was my second triathlon ever and it included my first 10K run. I’m tempted to apologize for how wordy this summary is but gosh darn it, it just might help some other triathlon newbie out there and it’s fun (for me anyway) to peek back into my mind as a relative beginner.

Pre-race:

In the days leading up to the triathlon I was nervous and wondering what I had gotten myself into and why I had gotten myself into it. It’s a huge challenge – mental, physical, organizational – and I hoped nothing would go wrong. It’s funny though, because the closer I get to the race start time the better I feel. It’s an accomplishment in itself to arrive at race day healthy, well-trained, and prepared with all the gear and race information.

On Friday Mike picked up the girls early from preschool and elementary school. By the time he did all that, I was done packing and double-checking my triathlon gear list. We left at 1:30 and had an easy 2-hour drive to La Quinta. The resort is gorgeous and the kids were delighted to see one giant Christmas tree outside and a few more inside the lobby.

While the kids played tennis with Mike and the ball machine someone had left on the court, I went out on the bike to make sure everything was in working order (both me and the bike). I ran for 5 minutes after I got off the bike. By that time it was already starting to get dark and we needed to head out to the horse park to pick up my race registration packet. First we swung by Lake Cahuilla so I knew that I would know how to get there in the wee hours of the morning on race day.

We got to the horse park at 5:30 and it was completely dark outside and freezing cold as we waited in line in the outdoor area. I got my race pack no problem and then we waited for the mandatory athlete’s meeting to start at 6. There was also supposed to be a dinner at 6, but they didn’t start serving the food right away. Mike and I were desperate to feed the kids so he went up to the food and helped himself, not waiting for the servers. I’m sure people were glad because the food kept the kids quiet.

The race director did a poor job on the athlete’s talk — too much rambling and not enough info, especially for us nervous newbies. I had questions and he only took 3 questions from the audience including one of mine. At least I learned that we had assigned spots in transition (unlike SheROX, where you just had to get there early and grab the best spot you could), transition wouldn’t open til 5 and not 4 like the athlete’s guide had said, and we’d be starting on the beach and running into the water. I didn’t find out until the morning what the swim would look like — where the buoys would be placed and how to do the two loops (more confusing than it sounds, as it turned out). He did introduce actor/triathlete/marathoner Mario Lopez, which was important (ha).

We didn’t get enough food because Mike could only carry two plates and by the time the servers started serving, the line was huge and we weren’t willing to wait in the cold. We went back to the room and ate leftover Panera.

Mike helped me get all the race numbers on all the gear properly. Stickers for the bike, my helmet, my transition bag, my race belt and my swim cap. “TriTats” for me — temporary tattoos for both my biceps, my outer left calf and my back left calf.

These cool race tats made me feel like a pro! I have no idea why my toenails look like they’re glowing. Pink sparkly nail polish maybe?

The tattoo applications actually took quite a long time. At least it distracted me from my race nerves. I packed all my gear and made sure I had everything. I almost forgot the parking pass I needed to park at Lake Cahuilla! After that we got ready for bed. I needed to be up at 4:30 a.m. and we set 3 different alarms just to make sure we had backup in case one didn’t go off like last time. Lights out at 9:30 and I was asleep by 10 so I got 6.5 hours of sleep. Quite good for the night before a race!

Race morning:

I got up with the alarm and Mike hit the “on” button on the coffee for me and went back to bed. I had coffee and instant oatmeal. I got in my swimsuit and sweats, double-checked my gear and headed out into the dark “night” at 4:55 a.m. I could see lots of stars in the clear desert sky. I saw a couple of other cars getting ready to go too. I followed my nav system directions for the 15-minute drive. Along the way I saw a car stopped at an intersection. The interior lights were on and the people were obviously looking at a map. I saw the bikes on the back of their car and I knew where they were going! I rolled down my window and gave them a “follow me” wave and led them to the park. I was worried I would steer them wrong but soon we met up with even more cars with bikes and I knew we were good. ๐Ÿ™‚ I figured I earned some good race karma by helping those people. Everyone in triathlon is super nice. Competitive mainly against themselves, serious about the sport, friendly and helpful to other triathletes because we all know how much work it took to get to that point.

I found my spot in transition and was disappointed to see that it was the absolute last slot in the row, meaning that to get in and out I would need to travel farther than an athlete who had a lucky assignment on the aisle. It not only costs precious seconds in the race but makes it harder to find your spot when running in for T1 or T2 (that would be foreshadowing right there).

I got my timing chip, which was attached to a velcro strap that I was to wrap around my right ankle on the outside of the wetsuit (which meant that you’d need to take it off to get the wetsuit off, then remember to put it back on for the bike — costing more seconds and it could potentially be a huge problem if you forgot to put it back on!)

I went to the bike support tent and had the guy pump up my tires with air. He said I shouldn’t pump them up to 120 like the number on the tire says; that’s bursting point. He recommended 105-115, the softer they were the more grip I’d have on the road, which is good for someone like me who isn’t so confident in the turns. He said I could even go down to 95 in rainy conditions. Then I had him run through the gears and put it in second gear for me for the race start.

As I was setting up, another triathlete in my row asked me what was said at the athlete’s meeting. I told him he didn’t miss much. He asked me if we were getting out of the water on the swim at the end of the first loop. I hadn’t heard that — that clearly should have been discussed at the meeting! I cornered the race organizer and asked him that. Sure enough, there were 4 buoys for the Olympic distance. One on the shore, 3 in the water (with smaller buoys in between). To do the full two loops, we’d need to go to the 3rd one in the water, swim back to shore, get out on the sand and run around the shore buoy back into the water.

By the time I got all set up it was 6 a.m., the time the officials were going to close the in-and-out of cars from the park. If I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t get out to go back to the hotel to get Mike and the girls (they needed the car while I was at the race).

I called them at 6:15 on the way to make sure they were up. We were cutting the time close. I got there at 6:30 and got my swim gear on. It’s hard to remember what stays at transition and what I need to keep for the swim — my race cap, goggles, anti-fog for the goggles (which I put on the night before just in case), my swimsuit, wetsuit, Glide for under the wetsuit. Parking pass again.

We all headed out around 7 and got there around 7:20 for a 7:30 race start time. I had plenty of time to talk to some of the other “green caps” on the beach. The sprint was underway. Apparently there had been some scary panic attacks at the start of the sprint swim. The water was 60 degrees and even with a wetsuit that was quite cold. Unfortunately this was the first event this organizer had put on and he didn’t hire enough lifeguards! They had pulled volunteers from the vendors and even some of the Olympic racers to lifeguard for the sprint! Good karma for one racer who was 19 years old and ended up still coming in 6th place overall, even after treading water as a lifeguard before his event started.

I chose not to do a warm up swim in the water. I think that was wise. The people coming out of the water were absolutely shivering. The organizer called us around and said he’d be saying “Set!” and then sounding the horn.

Race:

Immediately after the talk I walked to edge of the water, dipped my toes in, went to back out, and I heard the organizer say “Set” and blow the horn! Totally caught me and all the other racers off guard. I didn’t realize he was starting so fast — we hadn’t even all gathered on the shore.

Gorgeous but cold Lake Cahuilla for the mass swim start

I took off and was in a good place — quickly getting toward the front and having enough room to swim in spite of the fact that all 191 racers were starting at once, not in age group waves like at other events.

The water was cold and choppy due to high winds. I took in a few mouthfuls of water during the race and each time I was grateful that it was fresh water in the reservoir and not saltwater from the ocean! I’ve known racers who have thrown up from ingesting saltwater on ocean swims. The swim was tough for me. I don’t know if it was the cold or the waves or both, but it was really tough. The only saving grace was that the water was relatively clear, better than Mission Bay. My mantra on the swim was “motorboat” — said to the three-beat arm strokes: “Mo-tor-boat! Mo-tor-boat!” At a few points on the swim I did backstroke to catch my breath. Backstroke is way faster than breaststroke for me, and I noticed that even when doing backstroke I was faster than most others doing freestyle. Still, I wanted my time to be under 30 minutes and I missed that by a minute some. 31:11.686. There is plenty of room for improvement on the swim for me.

T1: T1 was slow for me. 00:04:40.980. A long run to the transition area, then a rough time getting my wetsuit off. It’s hard when I’m panting from the swim and having trouble balancing to step on my wetsuit and pull it off. Again a tri-suit would have helped because it took me a long time to get on my bike shorts and long-sleeved shirt (the sleeves are tough — short sleeves are easier but I needed the long sleeves in the cold). I decided to put my bike gloves on too, so I wouldn’t freeze, but I think I would’ve been okay without them. I didn’t think I took 4 minutes in transition — it goes by fast for me. I thought I had a strong run with the bike to the bike start, and I got pedaling right away and then clipped my shoes in after I got going — a definite improvement over my first tri.

Bike: I passed several people on the bike — maybe 6? Nothing like SheROX where I was passing 10s of people. But this was 24.8 miles — double the length, and a far more competitive field. A couple people passed me — I’d trade spots with people and I think only a couple ended up ahead of me by the time we were done.

The bike course was not well marked. There were police officers at every turn and I finally realized I’d just have to rely on that fact to guide me that there was a turn, and then I’d yell out to the officer, “Which way?!” Sometimes there’d be a biker ahead of me to follow but often we were spread far apart. At one point an officer warned me that an upcoming turn was slippery due to sand on the road. I have wiped out in sand before so I was grateful he was warning everyone. And another officer was sweeping the sand off the road.

I was disappointed to see a farmer spraying chemicals on a field next to the bike course. I don’t want to know what was in that bright green spray!

The winds were high and certain parts of the course were really tough. I had a mantra on that part: “Head down, power on! Head down, power on!” Over and over again. That’s where tri-bars would have come in handy for the aerodynamics. It’s not enough to keep my head down, it would have helped to keep my arms in.

My feet were numb for the entire bike ride. I occasionally tried to pull with the top of my feet rather than push down on the pedal, just to try to get some circulation going and to use different muscles. That helped but not much. I later learned that other racers were also numb, and it was due to the cold, cold water. Swim booties would help with that.

Note the people starting out their run as I’m starting out on the bike!

I had Rain Berry Gatorade in my race bottles and a peppermint stick Luna Bar. I could hardly choke down any of the Luna Bar. I’d tried it before in training and liked it then. On the race it tasted like dirt. I had to force myself to eat a third of my bar at one point and another third during the second half of the bike.

I had put the power bar in an elastic slot on my race belt, which worked fine for holding it but once I took it out I couldn’t get it back in. FAIL. I stuffed it in my shorts. ๐Ÿ™‚ Final time for the bike: 01:19:25.949 — 18.77 miles per hour. Not bad in all that wind.

T2: 00:02:04.585. T2 would have gone better had I not missed my row to rack my bike. I probably lost 20-30 seconds that way. Things look different in the light of day and I should not have relied on “I’m in the row by the big lights and the flag” and should have counted the number of rows from the “bike in” until my row. I also lost time when I clipped on my running water bottle and started running and the bottle promptly bounced right off the belt! I had to run back and pick it up. Obviously the belt wasn’t tight enough. I’d practiced this at home so I’m not sure why it wasn’t set right. I couldn’t get it tighter and didn’t want to risk losing the bottle again so I carried it the whole way. Good thing I had it though because I don’t like stopping for the aid stations and I heard that the aid stations later ran out of water anyway!

Run: I wore my visor to protect myself from the sun and that turned out to be a mistake. It was so windy that I nearly lost the visor two times and ended up keeping my head down against the wind. That made my already horrible running form worse. Mike took pictures of me toward the end of the run and I look like a hunchback! I was proud of my performance on the run though. I wanted to get under an hour and I came in at 00:55:35.306 — that’s 8:56 minutes per mile and 6.7 miles per hour for 6.2 miles! At the end of the bike, a race volunteer had told me I was 14th among the women. That heartened me! I wasn’t wearing any kind of watch and didn’t have a bike computer and there no clocks or even mile markers on the course. I had no clue how I was doing, aside from a swim volunteer having told me that I was around the 30-minute mark. I was grateful that guy said I was 14th. Three women passed me on the run (no surprise there) but a few must have been faster in transition too, because I ended up 20th. People were really nice on the run — often saying, “Good job!” or “Way to go!” or “Looking good!” etc. I couldn’t speak so I finally resorted to giving people a thumbs-up. ๐Ÿ™‚

At one point during the run there was a sign that said “Run Turnaround.” Thank goodness I was following some people and they knew to keep going beyond that sign (which was for the sprint distance but not marked as such. At that point I’d been racing for over 2 hours and I had no idea where I was on the run — I didn’t think I’d gone 3.1 miles yet but I couldn’t be sure.) Finally I made it to the actual turnaround and was pleased to find that I felt pretty good for that point in the race. I picked up the pace toward the end and finished strong. My mantra, in addition to “Head down, power on!” same as the bike, was “locomotion” said to the 4-beat running steps: “lo-co-mo-tion.” My legs feel like a train, powering me on down the course. That’s even more true on the bike, but the “locomotion” mantra helps me keep my legs going on the run. I never wanted to stop or even to walk — I had trained well. I would love to improve my running form though, and get even better on the run. For now I was really happy. I was super fast on the finish. Total Time: 02:52:58.506.

Coming in for the finish with a smile and a thumbs-up!

Post-race: I didn’t hear the announcer and Mike had to tell me what my time was. I was just glad to be done and so so happy that it had gone as well as it had. It’s a feeling of relief, joy, and accomplishment. A race volunteer took my timing chip and gave me a luggage tag (instead of a race medal – very cool!) I got a banana and oranges and water, and Mike had brought me some OJ. I felt good. The biggest thing I noticed was that my lungs felt congested. My muscles were not sore exactly, just a little achy and if I stopped moving for any length of time, I felt like the Tin Man needing some oil. Once I got going again I was fine. I felt better after this Olympic than I did after the sprint. All that training paid off!

We waited around a long time to get the official results. A nice race volunteer suggested that I change out of my sweaty clothes so I didn’t freeze, and I took her advice. I had a sweatshirt and a blanket in the car and I got warm in those. It was sunny and relatively nice out but still only in the 50s and windy.

At SheROX the individual times were available for printout immediately, and that even included the rank by age group. At this race, it took an hour and a half before they even gave us the times and that didn’t include the rank — all I knew was I got 1st in the 40 age group (not the 40-44 age group — they had actual awards for each year of age). I had thought I was in the individual age group as 39, the age I was on 1/1/11, but either I got that wrong or they changed their minds. Whatever, it worked for me because I was the 1st of the two 40-year-olds! I got my plaque and then we went back to the hotel. I later learned I came in 20th out of 88 women total (top 22.73% to be exact! Can you tell how proud I was, given that this was my first Olympic distance tri?)

I talked to a couple of other Olympic distance racers after the race and they’d both had the same impressions I had — the race had some organizational glitches, and the water was super-cold and their feet were numb the whole time from the swim until about 15 minutes into the run (exactly what I’d told Mike!)

Lessons learned:

– Practice more open water swimming, both to get used to the waves and to practice sighting, and to get used to swimming in the cold. If the water temp is going to be 60 or below, consider buying swim booties.
– Get a tri suit and aerobars if I’m going to commit to do more races. [Done!]
– Don’t wear bike gloves unless air temps will be below 40.
– Figure out a better solution for race fuel and where to store it and practice that several times before the race.
– Count the number of rack rows to get to my row from the “swim in” and “bike in” towers.
– Ditch the run visor. Decide whether to put on sunscreen in transition.
– Work on running form. [Done! Half marathon training and marathon training took care of improving my form, although I continue to work on it].
– Think twice before signing up for a first-time organizer event. This organizer needed to do a better athlete talk, hire more swim lifeguards, do a better job of marking the course turns and turnarounds, ask the farmers not to spray on race day, NOT have it so the course had runners and bikers all together and going different directions on the same sections of course along with cars too, have better supplies for the aid stations, do a better job on reporting the race results.

I am glad that in spite of all that I had a wonderful race experience. And I did hear that the half-iron and full iron distance races both went much better the next day — those glitches were worked out for the really big races. I would do this race again now that the HITS organization has a full year of races under its belt. La Quinta is gorgeous, the resort is a fun place to stay, the freshwater lake for the swim is nice in spite of the cold, and the bike and run courses are relatively flat and scenic.

Have you done a HITS race? Have you competed in a triathlon at any level?

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