Ragnar Relay Utah Review

I was not super excited about doing Ragnar Utah this past weekend. 36 hours sitting in a van? With a bunch of sweaty people? Running when you weren’t sitting — with my right leg totally crippled last week? It was so not exciting to me that Steve and I were laughing last week, after I wasn’t able to run four miles without limping, that it was so bad it was funny. Here I was crippled after the Dipsea, dealing with injury and needing to train for Ironman, exhausted from traveling, and sick of people. Continue reading “Ragnar Relay Utah Review”

The L.A. Marathon is Going to Be Hot

Record-breaking heat is expected for the race on Sunday! We’ll have ‘cooling buses’ stationed throughout the course! We’ll start in the dark! Ahhhhhhhh!!!!

Depending on what weather service you look at, Sunday is projected at a high of 85-90 degrees. This is not good. Running a marathon in 90 degrees is awful. But, a few days ago, before everyone started completely losing their minds, I saw that it was going to be in the high-80s for the race and I just thought, ‘well, that’ll suck.’ And that was it.

Today, at Universal Sports, we were interviewing Ryan and Sara Hall, who are going to be racing it and, you know what, Ryan Hall had almost the same reaction to the heat as my initial reaction:

  • Yeah, sure, it’s going to suck.
  • But it was that hot this past weekend, did you not run this past weekend? It’s been in the mid- and high-80s in L.A. before…
  • And, honestly, anyway, that’s the high for the day, not the average. It’ll be cool at the start, especially starting at 6:55 a.m. now. It’ll probably only get to high-70s, maybe 80 while we’re running. (OK, he’s going to finish like well over an hour before me, so it’ll be hotter for me, but you get the idea.)
  • And it’s cooler in Santa Monica, where it’s only projected to be a high of about 83-84 degrees. We’re running towards Santa Monica. That’s got to be good.
  • Mostly, you just have to hydrate and fuel well and not let it get into your head. Seriously, don’t let the heat mess with your mind.

So, at least an Olympian agrees with me. Now, I just have to put it into practice. Because, despite all that, I still don’t do great in the heat, and it’s still going to be nasty and awful, and I’m sure some people will get heat stroke, and it is entirely possible one of those people will be me. Plus, the elites have the benefit of only really caring about their place. They’re not out there just trying to run a personal best; they can run slow (for them) and just focus on the race and the other elites. I am not an elite marathoner. I do not have any particular goals in terms of my place—somewhere in the middle??—but I did have somewhat aggressive time goals. Those time goals are pretty much going to have to get thrown out the window now. It will not be fast on Sunday. It will just be a hot race.

Mountain Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains


This is the picture that’s been going around of a mountain lion in the Santa Monica mountains. Apparently, there are about 10-12 mountain lions in the mountains over there and researchers have been tracking them for a decade or so in an attempt to understand their habits and, ultimately, how humans are impacting those habits. (Spoiler alert: Badly.) Part of the research includes cameras set up in wildlife areas to try and catch pictures of them doing their mountain lion thing. Thus, this picture of the mountain lion near the L.A. county line.

Personally, though, I like this picture better:

Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?
Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?

Of course, that also happens to be where I went for a run the other day. In one of my less brilliant ideas—not because of the mountain lions—I decided to do my last long-ish run down the Santa Ynez trail in Topanga State Park. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it went something like: ‘Oh, a canyon trail to a waterfall, that’ll be nice.’ I didn’t think about the fact that if I started at the top of a mountain and ran down to a waterfall, I’d have to run down for a long time. And then I’d have to come back up. I also thought, I dunno, that the trail would be maintained, and not that steep, and not rocky, and not heavily unpopulated.

Anyway. Only one of my miles was under 10 minutes. And it prompted this conversation with Justin this weekend:

Me: Well you know how I don’t like too much nature in my runs.
Him: Right, because of the mountain lions.
Me: Yes, see, everyone knows that.

Because everyone knows I don’t like too much nature with my nature. I prefer for it to stay over there and I’ll stay over here and then we can all get along.

Is USATF Doing a Good Job?

Who knows.

Actually, literally, who knows if USA Track & Field is doing a terrible job or a great job? Lots of people have opinions about the question, even Runner’s World is getting into the debate. But I’m not sure anyone actually knows.

The problem is that there’s no criteria by which to answer this question. Typically, when we attempt to judge effectiveness in anything, we first have to decide how we’re going to know if what we’re doing is working. This is generally actually a requirement of grants to nonprofit organizations. If I give you $1 million to fight malaria, then I would like to know if you are effectively fighting malaria. If I give you $1 million to promote track and field, then I would like to know if you’re effectively promoting track and field. But, what measures will we use to determine this?

Is USATF supposed to help the U.S. win medals? Do we measure effectiveness by elite results? Is it supposed to help grow interest in running? Do we tell if that’s working by looking at the number of people doing running races? Is USATF doing a better job if it raises more money or has more of its officials placed on international boards and the like? Are those measures directly related to and reflective of USATF’s efforts? Probably not. (Which also tends to be a requirement of measuring effectiveness—that what you’re measuring is directly impacted by what you’re doing.)

USATF’s actual mission is: “USA Track & Field drives competitive excellence and popular engagement in our sport.” But, what are the ways to tell if it is driving competitive excellence? Or popular engagement?

Look, I’m not a big fan of the 23-year Nike deal that USATF signed. There’s also no reason the national governing body of a sport should be sending its athletes cease-and-desist letters for making fun team videos. And, I thought the mess of DQs at indoors last year had all kinds of problems. I don’t know for sure if those problems are getting resolved or if they were never as big as they seemed in the first place. I don’t know for sure if they’re remnants of an old regime or of business as usual. It’s also highly possible and probably likely that the outpouring of anger about sponsorships and money and the strange politics of elite sports isn’t really about USATF, but is about a lot of other things that have been a long time coming.

But, whatever measures we use to determine if USA Track and Field is doing a good job at the job of track and field at least one of them has to be how athletes feel about the organization. If USATF doesn’t have buy-in from its own athlete members (and it very much is losing this buy-in with an increasing number), then it’s failing at being effective at one very important part of its job.

Race Report: Surf City Half-Marathon

Short version: Really, this is a race report of the weekend. Summary: it sucked. And that suckiness culminated in throwing up all along the Pacific Coast Highway as I eventually finished the second slowest 13 miles I have ever completed, ever, in my life.

Long version: I’m tired. Sometimes, it seems like I say this a lot. I am often tired. There is often a lot going on. But, I’ve been worn out lately from life and school and things happening. And, I haven’t felt well. I got really sick about a month ago and again about a week ago. And, since then, I just haven’t felt good with any real consistency. (This is foreshadowing, fyi.)

Mostly, though, I felt fine this weekend. I got up at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday to ride with The Kids. The two-hour ride took almost three, which is fine, but I had promised Steve and Justin I’d meet them so Steve could use my bike for a ride. That meant that I sort of had to rush because I was already late, and my ride was sort of harder and longer than I wanted for racing a half-marathon the next day. By the time I got back, I was sort of tired and hungry. But, it was fine.

Then, I hung out while they rode, which is when I had a nasty run-in with two middle-aged white guys in Malibu. You can read the whole string of the interaction on my twitters, because I had nowhere else to put it and nothing else to do about it. In summary, though, I just wanted to get some work done in Starbucks and then I was going to chill out, read a book. But, these two guys next to me were espousing on the Middle East, women, religion, Ireland, their own brilliance. For a long, long time. And, it was gross stuff. Eventually, it got really gross. There was some stuff about women dressing the way they do because they want the attention, and Bill Cosby just using a little pill to have sex with women because he was just insecure (it’s not his fault), and women want to be sexualized. It pretty much can be summed up with this quote:

Yes, typos. Sorry.
Yes, typos. Sorry.

And, they started blatantly looking the women in line up and down. And, there I was sitting in tights and a t-shirt, about which they clearly had opinions, and I felt gross. I felt like I was being made to feel gross and like I didn’t belong and like the public space wasn’t mine too. And, I didn’t intend to say anything to them. I sat there for an hour without saying anything, but it ebbed and flowed and it was harder and harder to do work. So, all of a sudden I was telling them to take their bullshit opinions outside, because they were making it impossible for other people, who also had a right to the space, to sit in peace.

Shockingly, that didn’t go well.

The older man started yelling at me about why did I think Viagra sales were so high. And, when I said, “Oh my god, can you just not inflict this on people here,” he got really hung up on what God was I referring to. He was pretty proud of this, because I didn’t really know how to respond to that crazy, so he was pretty sure this meant he was brilliant and right about everything. The slightly-younger man just kept yelling (yes, actually yelling), “FREE SPEECH! FREE SPEECH!” over and over, as if his actual rights were in actual danger of ever being infringed upon.

And, it was all so white rich male privilege, so convinced that they had the right to do whatever they wanted, so sure that they were speaking truth to power, when, from there on out, they were mostly just harassing me—and I, clearly, had so much power in this situation.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 1.24.20 PM

It was what it was. There’s a reason I, generally, don’t fight with stupid people, don’t pick arguments online, etc. You can’t win and even winning is losing. And, I don’t care that much about idiots. But, I just wanted them to feel as gross and bad as I felt, even for just a second. I wanted them to know they were assholes.

It didn’t work. They didn’t know anything at the end that they weren’t sure of at the start. I never got to say any of the things I wanted to say, to explain why they were wrong. They just felt vindicated and I still felt awful, worn out, and vaguely angry.

So, naturally, then, I had to drive two hours down to pick up my race packet for the half-marathon on Sunday. It was supposed to take an hour, but (#LA) it took two. That meant we got there 15 minutes after packet pick-up ended. This is not usually a big problem at races; the bibs were still sitting on the table and volunteers were starting to pack up. But, they just kept insisting I was too late. I got directed to an official, and then another official, and another tent. They said I’d just have to pick up my stuff in the morning, before the race.

“Wait, that was an option?? If that was an option, I wouldn’t have driven two hours down here today.”

“Well, it’s usually just for VIPs, or you have to pay $25.”

“I’d have paid $25 to not drive down here.”

“Sorry,” sad-face-not-sorry. “You’ll just have to do it tomorrow.”

And, I lost it. I mean that genuinely. I lost my damn mind. I flipped out. I think I started slamming my head against the table.

The only good thing about this was when you completely lose it, things get taken care of. The race director came running from across the expo tent—she did not want people to see a crazy girl going crazy at her race—and found my bib, which was just sitting on a table 10 feet away. And, everything was fine.

Everything was fine Sunday morning. I barely kept down my oatmeal and was swallowing back throwing up in the car, but that happens sometimes before races. I was weirdly stressed about how this was going to go, but that’s ok too. I had some Gatorade, warmed up, found a spot in the corral (even if it was pretty far back from the start), and everything was going to be fine.

And, it was for a little while.

I ran a 6:20 and some 6:30s. I dropped to a 6:50 going up a small hill, but pushed it to get back down to 6:40s. It was ok, but it was never good. By the time Steve joined me right before the 6-mile mark, I was fighting to hold on to the pace. Shortly after that, I ran another couple 6:50s, a 7:00. I don’t know why.

Here are some observations in retrospect:

– I was thirsty from the beginning, sucking down water at the first aid station.
– I forgot to stick a gel in my pocket. Somehow, I forgot this. And, with not managing to keep much down before the race, I was sort of hungry, but it’s only 1 and 1/2 hours. I wasn’t too worried. I’d improvise at the aid stations.
– With that, I was also getting slightly light-headed.
– Running up into the back of the marathoners is awful. It was all weaving and running into people, and it messes with your head.
– My hamstrings were not happy.

To me, in the race though, not in retrospect, it felt like I just couldn’t hold the pace. I was trying to. I was trying to go with people and I just couldn’t. What the hell is wrong with me? I’ve been feeling pretty fit lately, nailing workouts, and I had been so sure I was going to PR. I even thought I might be able to run a 1:26. I thought, for sure, I’d run sub-1:30. No problem. Maybe I forgot that running the fastest you’ve ever run isn’t a guarantee, no matter what. But, I was sure I’d dig deep and find something. And, then, here I was fighting to even hold on to sub-1:30 effort. And, I knew it. I knew it wasn’t there.

Then, around mile 9, I veered to the side of the road and threw up. I didn’t feel nauseous before that. I just felt like my body was rejecting the whole experience. I pretty much only threw up the water and sports drink I’d just swallowed at the previous aid station. It wasn’t anything crazy and Steve was with me, so we started running again after I swore a little bit. Obviously, I wasn’t excited about running again. But, sometimes, there’s value in still finishing and maybe I’d rally. We ran another mile about 7:30 pace and then I threw up again. So, then, we started walking.

Do I look like I'm about to throw up? Because this is pretty much right before that fun started.
Do I look like I’m about to throw up? Because this is pretty much right before that fun started.

I threw up once more during the walking, but there really wasn’t much to throw up. Eventually, Steve went to get the car and I decided to finish only because my stuff was at gear check at the finish line. I jogged/shuffled the last two miles, with a nasty high heart rate for 9:50 pace. And, I eventually finished the 13.1 miles in 1 hour and 58 minutes, I believe.

I was trying to think if I’d ever even run 13 miles that slowly, even in training or long runs or in a marathon. I think the second half of my Ironman marathon was slower. But that’s it. Even when I’ve blown up before and sucked, it was like a 1:30-something sucked.

And, no, I don’t know exactly what was wrong. I have some ideas, but I don’t know. Mostly, though, I just haven’t felt good. (I still don’t feel great.) I’m hoping that goes away before the marathon and that I don’t get in my head about having a really bad race. I’m hoping I’m not just a mental mess and that everything gets better. Because, man, it wears on you, everything.

The San Francisco Christmas Relays: Race Review

The Christmas Relays are miserable. Everyone knows it. And, yet, everyone still does them every year. I raced the relays again this past weekend, for probably the fourth or fifth time.

It’s hard to explain why it’s so miserable. It’s supposed to be a fun holiday relay race, but there’s something about it that’s slow and long and uphill both ways and it’s mid-December, so everyone’s out of shape in mid-December. It just hurts. Steve did the race for the first time this year — we did it with another couple — and I tried to explain why it sucks. “It’s only 4.5 miles,” he asked, “What’s so bad about that?” Yeah, but it’s a mysteriously slow, terrible 4.55 miles.

After he finished, he basically had to admit that it is mysteriously awful.

Still. It’s the only $18 race where the field will be evenly split between people in costume and Olympic hopefuls. It’s a classic. You have to do it at least once.


The Expo and Goodies

This is a running race classic. That means you better not expect the same kind of scene as at the super-fancy big marathons. There was a brunch truck this year that you could buy food from. And, there are always a few Gatorade containers with water in them. The big new perk in 2014 was the beer tent: everyone got two free beers from 21st Amendment. (I even got three. Don’t ask.) And, they were good beers. Since you have all this time to kill while you wait for the other runners in your relay to finish their 4.55-mile leg, the beer was a nice touch. Who cares that it’s 9:30 a.m.?

The other cool feature is that you can opt to pay less and not get a t-shirt with your entry — which is a nice option if you have too many t-shirts. Winners get mugs.

The Course

The course is what makes the race so miserable. Allegedly, all you have to do is a run a 4.55-mile loop around Lake Merced, but there’s something about that loop that is all uphill.

Actually, it starts out slightly downhill, so you go too fast and blow up. Everyone does. It can not be avoided. Then, it’s all false flat up — just a small enough incline that you don’t notice it; all you notice is that you’re going a lot slower and it’s a lot harder. And, the run is all on sidewalk around the lake, which can get sort of annoying, especially as you dodge dogwalkers and Sunday morning joggers.

The first year I did it, we all wore costumes (see above) and I went out hard — really hard. Within a couple minutes I was overheating and wheezing. Since I was the last runner in our foursome and the field gets really spread out over the full 18 miles, there weren’t many runners around me. I was sprinting down a sidewalk by myself, in a very non-breathable leotard, weaving through walkers, and I looked over at the cars driving down the busy road next to the park and realized that this whole thing must look ridiculous to the drivers.

The Organizational Details

It’s a four-person relay, with each person running one 4.55-mile lap around the lake. Being the Bay Area, there will be lots of disgustingly fast relays. There will be one women’s relay made up of Olympians and future Olympians. Then, there will be another ten women’s relays that all still average under six minute mile pace. Be prepared for this.

Also, be prepared for spending a lot of time hanging out. It’s usually cold and it’s often raining, so two hours standing around in a parking lot may not sound like the most fun idea ever. (This is why the beer tent was such a nice addition this year.) If you go first or second, then you’ll be done and can hang out — extra bonus: if you go first or second, then you’ll probably have more people around you to run with too.

Grade: B-/C+

Turkey Trot Race Report: On the Art of Returning

Steve won the Turkey Trot 5K we did on Thursday, which surprised everyone — including him. Since he hadn’t run in years until I made him do that Turkey Trot last year (at which he would like you to know he beat me) and now he runs just a couple times a week casually, I don’t think he thought it would go great. But, maybe none of us should have been that surprised that it did. After all, he is a very, very good athlete and that is always in there somewhere.

I won the women’s race too, but it was hard. (Here’s a video of me crossing the finish line, if you really want to see what I look like getting outsprinted by a 14-year-old boy.) It was a classic cross-country-style course. We ran across a field, over a hill, on a path, through a parking lot, down a trail, up another steep hill, and around a soccer field. I ran pretty fast at the start, but it felt easy. Then, it felt really hard. When Ilyce went by me around halfway, I was sure I was done. Mentally, I threw it in and figured this seemed like a good enough pace. Only, then I came back.

Having done three 5Ks in three weeks, among other races too, I think it’s probably time to stop now. But, one thing I have learned in this spate of racing off very little fitness is that it’s always in there somewhere. I’ve learned that I have more capacity to come back than I even realized.

After being a huge bum for August and some of September and then being sick for a month, I wasn’t sure how long it’d take me to come back or how out of shape I was. The answer is: not as much as I was worried.

It turns out the base I built training for Ironman this summer, the years of working out and getting just a little bit better at a time (and then a little worse and then nothing), the miles and miles are all in there. And, then, Friday, Steve and I went for a long bike ride to Marshall. It’s a ride that’s a Marin classic and litmus test — one of the first ones you do when you move here. For me, it used to be epic and take all day. I still think of it that way and so I wasn’t sure if I was in any shape to do it with Steve. But, we did and it was hard, but not that hard. The Marshall Wall didn’t even seem like a wall. It seemed easier and smaller. The Return was scarcely a return. It was just another day to add to the stores.