Watching Professional Endurance Sports Events Is Weird

Thursday night, I went to the HOKA ONE ONE Middle Distance Classic (a name which maybe helps explain why track meets are hard to turn into bigger sporting events). It was fun before it started pouring rain. It was also $10 if you didn’t have a student ID. Perhaps unsurprisingly, or maybe surprisingly depending on your point of view, there were about 200 people in the stands.

Even Justin, who was with me, asked if there was anyone big there. Um, yeah, like a bunch of Olympians, some Olympic medalists, World medalists, etc. He agreed he had heard of some of the names I was listing.

The weird thing, if you think about it, is even the people you can’t name, who won’t make it on even the most niche coverage, have to train a LOT to be that good. You train and you train and then you go to a random track at a small school in the suburbs of Los Angeles, warm-up jogging around the neighborhood, then run as hard as you can in front of a few hundred people until it starts pouring rain. Go ahead and try to explain that job to a career counselor.

After graduation on Friday and some celebrating on Friday night, we then rode up Mt. Baldy on Saturday to watch the Tour of California. We made it on TV, though I don’t know if you can see us through the crowds on the side of the road:

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 8.33.32 AM
Then, after going for a run Sunday morning at JPL, which is right by the Rose Bowl, we went down to watch the end of the race at the Rose Bowl. I thought we wouldn’t be able to get close, but we basically just parked down the street and walked up.

It actually was really exciting. Peter Sagan, who is best known as a sprinter, managed to do well enough up Mt. Baldy that he ended up just three seconds out of the overall lead. This is crazy. And if he placed in the top three at the last stage (or at the intermediate sprint during that last stage) it would give him enough of a time bonus to take back the overall win.

He actually managed to do it by just millimeters at the line. See, it was genuinely exciting. But it’s hard to explain or to get anyone who doesn’t know about this stuff to care.

I know a lot about triathlon, like for real, a lot. But then I’ll peruse the new TRS Triathlon website (which I actually mostly like) or the ‘Twitch or, god forbid, the ‘Twitch’s forums, and I think, ‘Shit, I don’t know that much.’ I don’t obsess about what every single pro is doing or who did what when or gear, man do I not care about gear. Yet, there are people who do, and in a way you’re riding your bike around a mostly empty Rose Bowl as hard as you can just for those people.

Professional endurance sports are weird.

 

A Few Things Right Now

1. Wednesday I was in Palos Verdes and I biked past a guy down on his hands and knees in his perfectly green manicured lawn. He had a pair of scissors and was pulling out errant strands from his perfect lawn one at a time. Obviously, he had to compete against the more perfect lawn across the street, denoted by the sign in front of it saying it won the neighborhood’s lawnscaping award. My second thought was: Don’t you know there’s a drought. But my first thought was: Man, I wish I had that kind of time.

2. You know when you time your sprint finish just perfectly, but then it turns out that the finish line is just around the corner and you end up like sort of limping across the line because you used everything up. That’s how I feel about life right now. I finished my thesis (yay!), but it turns out I still have six more weeks of grad school left after that (ah!).

3. Remember when I said I wasn’t going to apply for the Women for Tri board thing and you can too. Look, I know people think I’m a “shit-stirrer,” as was explained to me the other day. But Hillary Biscay isn’t. And if she’s saying that she’s resigning from the Women for Tri board because it is not the place to affect true change for women, then you should listen to her.

4. I wrote about the new L.A. professional frisbee team and the competing professional frisbee leagues. Yes, there are two professional frisbee leagues.

5. I know a lot about obstacle course racing right now. I think I might become a professional(ish) obstacle course racer. Watch out.

The L.A. Marathon: Race Report

Short version: I ran myself into the med tent with mild heatstroke just after mile 16. All the non-sports people I know are like, ‘Oh my god! Heatstroke! You almost died!!’ And, all the sports people are all, ‘It was only mild heatstroke. You could have kept going.’ I’m falling somewhere in between those two right now, and very much never want to try running a marathon again. For at least a few years.

Long version: It was warm. Arguably, it never got as hot as some people were predicting it might, but at 5:45 a.m. at Dodger Stadium it was concerningly warm. All last week I’d been preparing myself for ‘this is going to suck, but you can tough it out.’ My tentative race plan was: 1. You will probably not run your pie-in-the-sky, ‘A goal’ of 3:06. 2. You could still run a PR around 3:10, sub-3:15. 3. Only if you aren’t stupid; don’t be stupid. 4. Go for it, but in a conservative way and 5. When it starts to suck early, because it will, hang tough and know it sucks for everybody.

So, that’s what I tried to do. I ran some 7:05s for the first few miles, but they were all downhill (more or less) and it felt easy slow. I did not let myself get ahead of the 3:05 pace group, because “don’t be stupid.” By mile 2 I was dripping sweat and thought ‘well, this is going to get hot.’ Around mile 4, we went up a steep hill and I let the 3:05 pace group slip away, because “don’t be stupid.” After that, I was sort of just running, some by myself, some through people who were already looking hot and tired.

By 7 or 8, it was feeling really hard and I was getting the chills a bit. But I, literally, thought to myself: It’s not possible to be having heat issues this early; I haven’t even been running long enough, so these chills must be because of the breeze or something (?). And, anyway, I was still running 7:10s or so, so it’s fine. It’s fiiiiiiiine. I was taking water and Gatorade at every aid station, but I wasn’t making it to the next one before I was dying of thirst again. (And, for the record, I had oatmeal, a Gatorade and some water, and a gel before the start, and one more gel around mile 7. After that I was having a hard time imagining swallowing anything else.)

By mile 10, I was struggling. Somewhere around 9, two guys next to me were talking to each other and one said, “It’s not good if it feels this hard this early” and I went, ‘heh.’ I remember hitting the 10 marker and just thinking, ‘Fuck.’ I was still running in the 7:15s-ish, though, and it was hard to tell if we were going uphill, so it’s fine, I thought. It’s fiiiiine. I had promised myself I was going to be mentally tough for this race. I wasn’t going to drop out or check out. I was going to fight for it. So I did. My thing I had planned on telling myself was: ‘You’re tougher than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.’ I had planned on telling myself that in the second half of the race, because I didn’t expect it to be nasty hard too much before then, but oh well.

By 11 or 12, I was in bad shape. I was getting the chills and things were a little light-headed and dizzy. I was fighting for every mile and keeping them somewhere in the 7:20s, but I knew that it was not fine. At this point, it became one of those battles: If you know you’re in bad shape and it’s only getting worse and you don’t think you can finish, but you promised yourself you wouldn’t voluntarily quit, then what do you do? You make it so you’ll be involuntarily done, whether that’s because you get to the finish or crash out sooner. At least that’s the option I took. I have this tendency to wallow and, like, hope that someone will just spontaneously pull me from the course and tell me I should sit down in the shade and have some nice ice water. But, I wanted to be mentally tough. Instead of wallowing, I tried to smile. Studies show that you can affect your mental state by smiling in races. So. I tried to do all the things that keep you mentally positive. I tried to hang on to people next to me and get whatever boost there was from the atmosphere. I repeated ‘you’re tougher than you think you are’ in my head until it became gibberish. Mostly, I thought, if I’m going to end up running myself into the med tent (which it was starting to seem that I was), then I’m going to run as hard as I can until that happens.

I don’t remember much from 12 to whenever I stopped just after mile 16. I have no idea how I made it that far either. I was almost totally cognizant at the time. I knew where I was and I knew I saw Steve at one point (and tried to tell him with my eyes that I was in a bad place), but it all got a bit blurry, in that way things get in races when it’s like you’re watching from far away on the other side of a bright light. I kept trying to be tough and I would have sworn to you I was hanging on to 7:30 pace, but my Garmin suggests that I actually dropped pretty sharply to 7:50s.

Look, I expected it to get that bad. I did. I’d been preparing myself all week for it to get that bad, for me to have to tough it out for 8-10 miles. I’ve had bad heatstroke before, and I knew there was a chance I’d end up lying down in a med tent with an IV. I just expected that 8-10 miles to be the last 8-10 miles.

By around 16, I was getting the chills regularly. I was cold and hot, and I was dizzy, and things were getting light and dark, and then my chest started to hurt, and my heart felt like something tight was around it (which is new, by the way, that’s never happened before). And somewhere in my head I thought, ‘oh good, a med tent’ and I stepped out of the race and did that crumpling/collapsing thing and laid down on the side of the road. Of course, it turned out it wasn’t a med tent, it was actually just a random tiny tent of people cheering their friends on. So I freaked those people out.

For a few minutes, I just laid there with my eyes closed and rolled onto my side and tried to sit up and tried to get my eyes to focus and the lights to go back to how they’re supposed to be and then that was a lot of effort, so I laid back down. I don’t think I had the capacity to say anything for a couple minutes. And that freaked out the random people I had decided to lay down in front of even more than they were already freaked out. Then the cops and paramedics on bikes got there and also freaked out, and called an ambulance and a fire truck. And, I think my head was sort of lolling to one side and when I did start talking it was all slurred and along of the lines of: ‘It’s fine, ‘tsfiiiiine, my chest just hurts, *wave hands, close eyes*,  whatevvvver, *lay back down*”

Somewhere in my head I knew I was fine, actually. Or, I would be fine relatively soon. This was not a permanent state. I also knew that I always look really bad, even when I’m killing it. And I just didn’t have the wherewithal to explain to a bunch of people the degree to which I was messed up. They wanted to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” Finally, it was decided the ambulance would take me 200 meters down the road to the actual med tent. Then, those doctors kept trying to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” I think I even said, “I don’t go to hospitals,” which is absurd. Of course I go to hospitals. I’ve been to lots of hospitals. That’s how I know they won’t be able to do much for mild heatstroke.

Eventually, Steve found me and Natalie drove over to pick me up and, by then, almost an hour later, I was fine. Not great, not really even ok, but fine.

So, could I have toughed it out for longer? Yeah, maybe. Would it have been worth it? Probably not. Part of the mental calculus that my brain does when it can’t even see straight was that it decided there was no reason to land myself in the hospital. I didn’t care much about just finishing. It wasn’t going to be a good time. And I wasn’t competing for a place. If I really screwed myself up for good, what would be the point? After lying in the med tent for 20 or 30 minutes, I actually thought I should get back up and start running again. Steve said that was dumb.

It always seems to me that how soon after a race you start planning the next one, how much you want a do-over, is often dependent on how much, subconsciously, you felt like you had left to give. The day after my Ironman I basically was Googling to find another one later that month. This time, there is almost no part of me that wants to think about another marathon. People keep suggesting them and I keep cringing. No, no, that sounds terrible. I even paused on an email from the Chicago Marathon and thought about it in passing for a second. I like the course and it’s fast and late this year, but then it made me want to gag. I can, actually, barely think about any races at all right now. They all sound awful. (Which is unfortunate, because I am definitely doing some triathlons that I was excited about.) The amount I am still emotionally and mentally and, to a degree, physically messed up makes me think I didn’t have much more to give on Sunday. For whatever reason. That was all there was.

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

lion

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.

A Very #LA Training Day

Last week I did one of my last big training days/runs before the L.A. Marathon. It ended up being a very LA training day.

First, since I had to drive out to Malibu, I figured I’d stop and run on the trails on my way. Always make the most of your driving #LAlesson. I picked a trail that I was pretty sure was going to be an ok trail—since so many trails around here are, well, not. And, I headed out.

Of course, I got stuck in traffic on my way. How was I supposed to know this random side street comes to a complete stop at commute time? #LAlife

Once I got there, though, Sullivan Canyon was great. It’s a gradual up—because all trails here either go up or down (which is maybe my second biggest complaint about running on the trails here)—but it wasn’t so bad that you weren’t able to actually run.

hikespeak.com

I, stupidly, thought I would go out the canyon, up to the ridge, down the ridge, and back into the canyon. Google Maps made it seem like they’d connect. FYI: They don’t connect. But, I had to learn this on my own.

In order to learn this, I ended up enlisting the help of Jennifer Garner. Naturally. It was basically an episode of Alias.

After I’d been running for a century (or, like, over an hour), I still hadn’t found the trail back down and I was getting thirsty. So, I stopped and asked three Hollywood-esque 30-something women walking by if they knew how to get back to my car (so I could get some water). They all sort of shrugged and one of them started to say that she has literally never set foot off this path, and I looked at her—because you should look at people when they talk to you—and I realized that it’s Jennifer Garner. #LA

What was funny was that it took me no time to realize who it was once I looked at her. Sydney Bristow, you can’t hide!

That buoyed me for a little bit, which was just as well, because I had to run all the way back the way I had come. And, of course, because #LA, the whole way back up the ridge was uphill. By the time I got back to my car, I’d been running for 2 hours and 30 minutes without water. I chugged a bottle and then went out for 15 more minutes to round out my run.

Then, I drove to Malibu.

Then, I drove back to USC.

Then, I had a glass of wine and went to swim practice. (OK, that’s maybe not especially an LA thing.) And, I swear to God, I almost drowned at swim practice. I pushed off the wall before realizing I didn’t have my goggles on. I almost got lapped on a 200-yard interval. I flailed and struggled. And, then, my foot seized up and cramped on the cooldown and I couldn’t move it.

Yay, almost done with marathon training!

Training Week 5: Dec. 1-7

This was the last week in Los Angeles before finishing up the semester, so I had a lot of projects due and life. I gave myself a bit of a break on the workout front, then, especially considering that I knew when I got back to the Bay Area I was going to go nuts. Still, I got some solid work in and am ready for five really solid weeks in Marin. The biggest problem is going to be not overdoing it — which I’m already having trouble with.

Monday

I messed something up in my neck/shoulder swimming the day before. It meant that I only managed to swim 700 yards before I had to get out. Eh.

Tuesday

Ran on a treadmill, a treadmill. And, I ran a hard workout on the treadmill. This is shocking. The amount I hate treadmills can not be overstated. If I had to run on treadmills regularly, I’d never get off the couch. They are the worst. But, I slept through my planned wake-up in the morning and then it turned out it was pouring anyway. So, the only way to actually get the hard workout I needed in was to do it on a treadmill. You do what you got to do. Ran six miles with 30 minutes as [10 minutes at 6:55, 10 minutes at 7:15, 10 minutes at 6:55]. It was hard and I was dripping sweat. But, done.

Wednesday

Strength work at the USC gym: TRX, box jumps, some deadlifts, and basic physical therapy.

Swam about 3,800 yards with The Kids. We did a 3,200 yard workout of 200s and 100s at steady state. Then, we did silly relays.

Thursday

After failing to get my bike to work, I decided to just do my easy run instead. Ran 5 miles slow, with drills and strides. Followed up by some basic yoga moves.

Friday

Rode the 11-12 miles to school (and then again back from school). Did not swim.

Did run the Beer Mile later in the day with The Kids. That totally counts as a workout, even though it didn’t so much work out my legs as much as other things.

Saturday

Rode about 45 miles with Justin, partially up Mt. Baldy. It was a pretty solid ride with him and another one of the kids.

Sunday

Off

TOTAL: 9:40

My plan is to put in a month of solid, big base before heading back to school (with a very full schedule) in early January. Then, I’ll just be focused on more speed and building anyway, so this is totally, 100 percent going to work out. Really.

Training Week 3: Nov. 10 – 16

I might have messed myself up this past week. The goal was to build on the previous two weeks (also known as the first two weeks) and then take a little bit of easy time going into Thanksgiving, with the understanding that I would probably bike and run a ton while up in the Bay Area for the holiday. After I bailed on lots and lots of swim workouts, I thought I was on the light end of training for the week, but I was wrong. The intensity did me in and by Sunday evening I was laying in a ball on my bed, trying to decide if I had enough energy to make food or if my body could just eat itself.

Monday

Did my own yoga routine that I made up in the morning to stretch out after the UCLA race. Discovered that the massive chaffing on my legs had turned into nasty cuts. Because of this, I wore a dress to school, which was a terrible idea. My body couldn’t handle the mildly cool temperatures and massively shut down. It is possible I was still a little messed up from the race the day before. And, now, I am the new proud owner of a USC outfit purchased at the student store to ward off the chills.

Swam about 1,000 yards easy at tri team practice before running (figuratively) to class in my new sweatshirt and tights.

Tuesday

Ran nine miles very, very, very slowly in the morning. Turned the iPod on — which is pretty much the only reason I bought an iPod shuffle in the first place — and just trotted along the ocean for a while.

Wednesday

Biked to school in the morning, which is an ok way to get to campus in that it doesn’t take much more time than train or driving/parking. But, it still is sort of lame and sketchy.

Was going to do some strength work and swim in the afternoon, but I only managed the strength work because I 1. hate swimming and 2. was tired.

Thursday

Ran seven miles with [4 x 3′ at 5K pace, 2′ off], except 5K pace was really not my usual 5K pace. I told myself that the slowness was because of the strong headwind. And, um, also the tailwind on the way back.

Again, did not swim.

Friday

The pool was closed, which was fine, because swimming is the worst. So, I just ran four miles easy around the neighborhood and did some drills/strides at Expo Park. Call this pre-race prep.

Saturday

10K Race! with some warming up and cooling down and stuff.

Then, finally, swam — just 1,500 yards very easy to shake out the legs.

Sunday

Because I had to do some interviews down in Long Beach in the morning, and because Steve was in town for the weekend, we rode some Malibu mountains with Justin in the afternoon. The only problem was that the massive wind storm had gotten worse by then and was way worse along the coast. We also didn’t leave ourselves very much time to do the whole 35-mile hilly loop, by the time we tried to find a different route to avoid the wind and then started anyway (and I may have slowed us down with my not amazing riding). Descending back to PCH as dusk fell, I was cold and sketched out, but it was fine. I have been in bad places before on my bike and this really didn’t seem like one of them. It seemed totally fine. And, then, suddenly, my whole body just tapped out. We barely made it home in the car before I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. That lasted through most of Monday too.

TOTAL: 9:55

You would think I’d have learned by now that when your body is done it’s done. You can’t make it not be done. You can’t tell it that that really wasn’t too much training or that other people would be fine on that schedule. If you’re done, then that’s that.

So, I’m having to take a few days really easy this week and then we’ll see. I feel pretty ok about the (slow) progress I’m making, but clearly I need to swim more. And, also bike more. And, sleep more.