Friday, December 12, 2014

Race Week!

I took a mini break from writing throughout the Thanksgiving holidays.  This week is race week for the Holiday Half in Portland!  I'm excited to run another half, even though fitting training into my busy schedule has been difficult at times.

A few weeks ago, I went for my last 12-mile long run, and kept my pace to a solid 9:15-9:20 per mile pace.  This pace is what I hope to achieve on Sunday in order to PR!  The weather has been both cold and warm, with lots of rain to deal with (alas winter in Oregon).  During that particular training run, it was mid-40s and rainy.

I have been tapering my runs up until now, and I really believe that I can knock a few minutes off my last half marathon time.  Training during the winter and holiday season is not the easiest time (training in August was a tease) but I love to see how far I can push my limits and keep my fitness level at what it is right now.  Here are a few tips I maintain for running/fitness throughout the holidays:

  1. DRINK WATER!!  Seriously.  With all of the holiday parties, traveling, etc. we often forget the most important thing our bodies need:  water.  I try to drink 5-6 bottles (from my amazing 21-oz Hydroflask) a day.  Especially if you're out on the town, when you get home, try chugging a few glasses before you go to sleep (alcohol dehydrates like crazy).
  2. Make time for your run!  If you have a busy schedule, try to get your run in first thing in the morning.  Even if you're just getting outside for a quick 2 miles, every bit helps.
  3. Switch it up!  If your relatives don't exactly love going out for a 7-mile fartlek, do a group hike, walk through the park, or hit the slopes/ice rink with them.  Cross training helps give your running muscles a rest and works other muscles you may have forgot you had.
Next post will be about my experience in the Holiday Half.  Wish me luck.  Cheers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Training For the Holiday Half

Shortly after I returned home from San Francisco, I caught the running bug, and signed up for another half marathon before I travel back to New York for the holidays.  This one is called the Holiday Half, and it takes place in North Portland, along the Willamette River, starting at adidas America headquarters.

The date is Sunday, December 14th, which has given me enough time to ramp back up in my training before race day.  This half will definitely be easier than the Nike Women's...the elevations are incomparable.  My goal is to PR.

Last week my running was hindered by a strong, windy cold front from Canada.  I never thought I'd say that I miss running in the summer,  but with the daylight quickly fading, I "had it easy" training for SF back in the sunny Pacific Northwest months.  Monday, I decided to run my four easy miles on the treadmill at my apartment complex.  Little did I know that Tuesday, instead of running my 9-mile interval run on the track like I had planned, I would yet again be stuck inside on the treadmill.  I was determined to have some fun battling through the 50-60mph gusts of wind...until I came home to three trees fallen down in our apartment complex.  Trees and power lines were down all over the metro area, and so I decided against running outside for my own personal safety.  9 miles on a treadmill is NOT exciting.  I started off with a 2-mile warmup, and was already bored...but then focused my attention to the .75-mile intervals at a 9min-per-mile pace with .25 mile at a 9:30min-per-mile pace in between the speed intervals.  Not too tired at the end, and made sure to really stretch out my hips when I finished the workout.

Thursday during the day I spent some time on the elliptical, as sleet and snow fell and prevented me from commuting in to the office that day.  The sidewalks were too slippery to venture outside, preventing me from being able to enjoy the breezy winter air!  Temperatures were getting down to 30 degrees, and I really felt like I was back at home in Northern NY.

On Friday after work, I ran an easy four miles around my neighborhood, finally acclimating myself to cold-weather running once again.  I ran in a sweatshirt for the first time since last winter!  It was harder than expected, not being able to fully extend my stride with the cold temps.  I took shorter, quicker strides to keep on pace, but went easy as this was a warmup for Saturday's long run.

My training schedule extends my mileage towards 13 miles by increasing 1 mile each Saturday, peaking at 13 miles two weeks prior to the race day.  I felt this worked very well prior to Nike Women's SF, and decided to keep this style of training for the Holiday Half.  I ventured off my normal route and planned out a figure-8 pattern on, which is a helpful tool that allows you to plot a route on a map and figure out distance.

Saturday was an 11-mile run, and with the days getting shorter, half of it ended up being in the sunlight, and half of it in the dark.  As I started out on one of my older loops that I haven't run in awhile, I noticed that there was still snow on the ground in certain areas of town that hadn't quite warmed up yet since Thursday!  It's funny how snow and temperature works like that.  I kept a good 9:15-9:30 per mile pace, taking shorter strides so that I wouldn't pull a muscle.  Despite my body being "warmed up," my skin was still cold to the touch.  For my next Saturday run, I have made a mental note to remember to wear my fleece-lined leggings!

The end of the figure-8 was one of my regular routes, and it was a bit difficult to see the sidewalk in the dark, which made me nervous because of the chance of ice.  However, everything went smoothly!  I definitely slowed my pace down to about 9:45 per mile near the end, as the temperatures were dropping and my body is still not fully acclimated to the weather.  As much as I love to finish strong, nothing is worth an injury.

After my run, I made sure to refuel with some chocolate milk and take a nice, hot shower.  Running is just as much about recovery as it is about actual running!  Next week (technically later this week, since I'm posting this on Wednesday) I build up to a 12-mile Saturday run, which a few speed workouts thrown in as well.  It doesn't seem like the end of November, but race day is quickly approaching, and I'm as excited as ever!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

We Run SF!

Welcome to my first official race recap!  I recently ran my first half marathon on October 19th, and chose to "go big" and run the Nike Women's SF Half Marathon.  I and 25,000 other runners were fortunate enough to conquer the hills of San Francisco on a beautiful foggy morning by the Bay.  It was a picture perfect memory that I will carry with me as I continue my training onto a full marathon, and hopefully someday running the Boston Marathon.  Thank you to Nike and the event organizers, volunteers, medical, police and service workers, and spectators who pulled together to make this incredible event.

Bryce and I flew out of Portland on Friday morning, and I experienced Southwest Airlines for the first time ever.  (I'm a PDX import from the east coast, and so Southwest isn't ever really an option for visits back to NY.)  Checking bags (FOR FREE!) was a breeze, and the security at PDX is always a fast-moving line.  I've never spent more than 15 minutes in line for security at PDX.  The flight was short, and we were greeted in Oakland with a beautiful, sunny day.

Most of Friday and Saturday during the day was spent with Bryce's family and friends; I had a wonderful time catching up with his friends that we haven't seen in months.  We went to a bar in downtown Oakland on Friday night that is known for serving the best beers from all over the world, which was fun.

As for my training schedule, I followed the "finish strong for my first half marathon" training plan provided on the Nike Women's SF app.  I felt more than prepared for the hills by strictly following the distances and run-types suggested on the app (a weekly interval run, weekly distance run, and subtle mileage runs throughout the week with a peak just 2 weeks prior to race day).  I made sure to check out the elevation chart and course map the day it was made available, and adjusted my long runs to incorporate two large hills, similar to the course.  On Friday, Bryce and I ran a couple of miles up in the Oakland hills, enjoying the sights (you could see San Francisco clear as day!)  And on Saturday, I ran 2 easy miles in Oakland.

On Saturday at around noon, we ventured over to San Francisco to pick up my packet and attend the expotique.  It was a fun, young and energetic vibe, but a LOT of people.  You couldn't really move around that well to vendors and different areas, so we didn't spend too much time there.  Picking up my packet was simple, and we also stopped at the Luna Bar spectator sign booth, which allowed you to type into an iPad what you wanted the sign to say, and it printed out on a decent-sized poster.  Cool touch!  I probably should have attended the expo on Friday, (I expect it was probably less crowded) but enjoyed the experience as much as I could.

Then Bryce's dad, Wade, asked if I'd like to drive the course.  I am very grateful to him that we did this, because it gave me a better picture of how steep the hills actually WERE (mile 10 in the Presidio, yeah, I'm talking to you.)  Driving the course was a beautiful preview of what I would experience the following day, and because the raceday ended up being very foggy, I'm glad I was able to see the views of the Golden Gate and the parks on Saturday in the sunshine.  That hill at mile 10, though...Bryce and Wade got a good laugh out of driving that with me.  It just kept climbing, and climbing, and climbing...

Saturday evening, my pre-race meal consisted of the other half of my deli sandwich from Genova delicatessen, a MUST-stop for us every time we visit.  I made sure to get a decent amount of sleep that night, but definitely woke up a few too many times in excitement and anticipation! (kind of like Christmas Eve night to many kids, I was SO EXCITED!).

Sunday morning, I ate my regular breakfast meal of two slices of whole grain toast with peanut butter, and a cup of coffee.  They say you shouldn't vary from routine on raceday, and that caffeine can actually help you on a morning run (frankly, I can barely make the walk to the coffee maker in the morning pre-coffee, so I would probably drink it anyway!)  I donned my race gear, that I stocked up on at the Nike Employee Store a few weeks prior.  A breathable, yet warm Nike long-sleeve dri-fit tech shirt, Nike dri-fit sports bra, capri Nike Training leggings, Yankees hat, a pair of Nike Free 5.0s (about 50 miles on them, so broken in enough but not too much), and of course my headphones, iPhone, and Nike+ armband, so I could listen to my tunes and track my distance/pace through the Nike+ app.

We ventured out early across the Bay Bridge around 5:45am to get to Union Square for the 6:30am start.  Bryce and his dad dropped me off a couple of blocks away, and I walked down to my corral of 8-8:59 minutes per mile (which, thankfully was the first corral to start).  I stretched out and jogged around, enjoying the upbeat music.  When we jogged towards the start line, the excitement took over, all of the training miles logged...finally it's raceday!  There was just something about sharing this experience with 20,000+ other women from all over the country, it was empowering.  Great motivator for the start.

There were plenty of spectators as we took off up Geary Blvd. that came out early to watch the race.  I started with a 9 minute per mile pace as we zig-zagged through some streets downtown.  The first hill was on Fulton St. at about mile 2.5.  I really paced myself on this hill, starting off pretty slow and building as I got closer to the top. (pretty long/steep hill, or at least it seemed like it.)  Despite pacing myself up it, I was still blowing by people, which usually is a strong indicator that you're going too fast too soon...but I felt proud of my training and knew I had plenty left in the tank.  For all of you Full House lovers, adjacent to this hill were the "Painted Ladies," the Victorian houses made famous by the show.  

The next mile was the approach to Golden Gate Park, and it was all slightly downhill since the top of the Fulton St. hill (another motivation for running hard up the hill is KNOWING you don't have to run up another one for awhile!).  I caught glimpse of Bryce and Wade on their bikes, as I stuck to the right side of the pack.  They waved, cheered, and would end up catching back up with me in a half mile or so.  Golden Gate Park was beautiful.  The blend of fog and tree cover kept a perfect running temperature in the air.  I hung by the right side of the pack for the entire race, which is my preference over hanging around a lot of people in the middle of the path (I need my space! haha).  Bryce and Wade caught back up to me and ended up pacing me for about miles 3-7.  They rode the path next to the road as we wound through the park.  It was so nice having them there to cheer me on and really be able to see me run for more than just a glimpse.  The bikes were a perfect idea.  

I made sure to keep myself hydrated as we approached aid stations.  I did carry a 22 ounce water bottle with me filled with Nuun replenisher (which is how I hydrate for all of my training runs as well) but wanted to save that for the legs without aid stations.  At one aid station, I accidentally threw back the water too fast and ended up in a coughing fit (things I'll learn with more race experience!).  There are two preferences of hydration:  those who drown themselves in water at every aid station, and those who prefer little sips every quarter mile or so.  I am the latter.  I never once felt that I wasn't getting enough water/Nuun, so kudos to Nike for placing the aid stations close enough together.

There were plenty of bands and cheer groups throughout Golden Gate Park, and although I had my headphones on, I turned the volume down enough so that I could hear the words of encouragement and great entertainment as we ran by.  Definitely gave a lot of thumbs-up and high-fives!  The race featured a HUGE flat-screen jumbotron that showed the runners who were approaching it around mile 7.  SO COOL.  There was a DJ reading off names of runners as they approached, too.  After I left Bryce and Wade, the next two miles wound backward through Golden Gate Park and up into a residential area before the Presidio.  There were some rolling hills through these miles, and honestly the downhills were harder than the uphills!  My knees started to get a bit tight, so I backed off when running downhill to make sure I wouldn't injure myself.

And now, THE hill.  We drove it the day prior, and thank God, so I knew how to pace myself. Spectators with signs of encouragement at the bottom said things like "You got this!" and "Conquer this hill!"  Every little bit helped us all get through it.  As we got halfway up the hill, a lot of people started walking.  But I willed myself against the idea and continued, almost as slow as a walk, to keep running up.  Breathing got harder, and the hill got steeper!  There were some cheer groups as we wound up the hill kindly letting us know how much distance left 'til the top.  I was thankful that they were there, as I didn't want to burn out too quickly.  At the very top of the hill, there was a huge banner saying "You conquered the hill!" and a large gathering of spectators and spirit squads cheering.  All of the adrenaline and determination of the climb paid off.  It was all downhill from there!  

The downhill miles 10-11 were probably the most difficult of the race.  Knowing there were only 3 miles left, I wanted to push my pace, but with the steep downhill grade, I knew if I opened up my stride too much, I might roll an ankle, etc.  So I had to mentally hold off until we got back on level ground.  The Presidio is an old military base that overlooked the Golden Gate bridge (views of the Golden Gate were fogged over that morning, and again I was glad we did a drive-through on Saturday).  They literally picked one of the highest points in the city to overlook the entry to the bay in order to defend against a possible attack (there's a similar base at the other end of the Golden Gate as well), and so the uphill and downhill were particularly steep.  It was cool to see all of the old military buildings preserved in the park.

The turn onto the last flat stretch was exciting.  I wasn't tired or hurting, as all of my hard training miles had prepared me for these last two miles.  This was when I really picked up the pace.  I made sure to hit the last aid station for a cup of water to barrel me through the last leg.  The last couple of miles stretched along the north side of the Marina District, parallel to the waterfront.  I had paced myself pretty consistently, hanging around a 9:15-9:30 per mile pace, and ran the hill at around 10-10:30 pace.  Now, I was determined to have nothing left at the finish line.  I opened up my stride and picked up the pace to about 8:30-9 per mile, and ended up weaving through people in the last .1 mile.  The adrenaline of seeing the finish line allowed me to sprint to the end, and looking back at my finish line pictures, I can tell that I did just that!  I was exhausted.  There was nothing left in the tank, and I had snuck in under 2:10 with a 2:09:10 finish time.  Not a bad time for a relatively tough course, and my first half!  I vow to finish every race all out like that.  

The finish line was great.  Volunteers kept runners slowly moving through, and we got SO MUCH STUFF!  The first thing they handed me was a Nike Women's SF water bottle, filled with ice-cold water.  The next thing was a Finisher bag filled with a variety of foods:  Luna protein bars, a banana, and plenty of other snacks to help replenish.  Then we got a space blanket to keep us warm, and next a carton of chocolate milk (best replenisher out there!).  And last, the thing everyone had been waiting for:  the Tiffany's finisher necklace!  It was the last thing they handed us before meeting back up with our loved ones.  I immediately put it on, and have worn it everyday since!  What a great gift to commemorate my first half.

I met back up with Bryce and Wade, hugs and congrats galore, as the finish soaked in.  The finish line festival was awesome (yoga, massages, merchandise, etc.), and we hung around enough to buy a shirt and enjoy the sunshine that started to peek through the fog.  What I REALLY wanted after finishing was a clam chowder bread bowl, and Bryce & Wade happily delivered on that ($8 for a HUGE sourdough bread bowl filled with incredible chowder).  Couldn't leave SF without it!  We drove back to Oakland, and eventually went out for "real" breakfast at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, where I got the most delicious challah french toast imaginable.  

The Nike Women's SF Half was a huge success as a result of hard training and determination.  I am so glad that I picked this race for my first half marathon, and can't wait to run another half and start gearing up for a full marathon next year.