Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Marathon! aka Mission Accomplished

So: the big race. Eleven days ago, on 10/16. I've had some time to process everything, and my feelings are a jumble of extreme pride and a slowly kindling desire to do another to better my time, despite being unable to run without soreness just yet.

The night before I unsurprisingly had some trouble sleeping for long stretches of time. My alarm was set for 5:15, and after going to bed at 11:30, I'm sure I tossed and turned until well after midnight, and then woke up every 15 minutes starting around 3 just to check the time. Finally gave up at 5:10.

All ready to go at 5:30 am!

Got ready, grabbed all the stuff I'd prepared and pinned on my bib, woke up Austin, and then my friend Kelly arrived and we all drove up to the city in the dark. The walk from the cluster of cars to the starting line was surreal: so many people, all wearing running gear, looking wide awake just like me even though the sky only started to lighten just before the start.

Then came a wait in the packed starting "corrals." I realized someone was singing the National Anthem about halfway through since I was so far away, then we all counted down and waited another 15 minutes until we actually started moving. On a whim I spotted a small, wiry woman wearing a pacer jersey and carrying a 4:50 sign, and decided to follow her.

We started trotting as we passed the starting line, going at what felt like a very easy, conversational pace. It was extremely crowded, especially with everyone wearing the yellow half-marathon bibs. Our pacer kept weaving in and out of bodies, and we all tried to follow her, dodging swinging elbows and heels. I befriended some of the women in the group: Julie, a veteran marathoner with a son older than I am; Brandy, a 40-year-old mom of 3 (I thought she was 25!), who teaches autistic kids, had lost over a hundred pounds, and was running two more marathons after this one within a month (so basically, a superhero); Anna-Marie and Tanya, two girls who had graduated from Wellesley a while back and asked me about my MIT t-shirt; Jenna, who looked badass in her bandana and whipped out her camera at every opportunity. I stayed with all of them, walking only through water stations and up one very crowded hill, until I realized I really shouldn't at about mile 7.5, when I was distracted by the most delicious orange slices I've ever had. Still, the first 8 miles were breezy.

Then the adrenaline wore off and I realized how far I still had to go. After forcing down a gel, a flavor I had never had before and found nasty and swore off of immediately, I did feel a little better. But tiny little aches, like a twinge in my left foot, my abductor muscles on the right, and my shin splints I haven't felt in 5 years came and went. Not going to lie, I knew I would finish, but I was getting nervous about the miles to come.

The next few are a bit of a blur, though I remember stopping at the port-a-potty and also the blessed moment when the boisterous half-marathoners split off from us and the hardcore, serene, determined marathoners continued on, suddenly with extra space to breathe.

In the thick of the park there was a turnaround, so I could see all the faster people (including the pacing group that I abandoned!) coming by. To pump myself up a bit, I stayed close to the center and got a few high fives from the marathoners coming the other way. I also met this awesome woman, Breck, a trauma nurse from Indiana, who was running her second NWM. I stopped at a medical tent to get some painkillers for the tightness in my leg. Eventually it helped, because they finally kicked in or because of placebo effect or because the pain just went away by itself.

Shortly after that I caught Breck again, and we pretty much stuck together to the end, so we had a lot of time to chat and just encourage each other. I was really excited for mile 16, since I knew that's where Austin and Kelly would be! I scanned ever cluster of people looking for them, but they spotted me first and yelled, with cameras at the ready. I gave Kelly a high-five and kissed Austin, said, "10 more miles!" and kept going.
Austin spots me in the distance, with Breck (in pink).

After that was the Great Highway, which, while flat, was LONG. Two miles on a straightaway feels like a lot, especially when all you can see is runners far ahead of you. Breck and I took a lot of walk breaks, but it was good to have her to get me to start running again. I wasn't sure if walking or running made me more sore and tired at that point. We went all the way around Lake Merced. Around the back side was the chocolate mile, which I wasn't convinced I'd be excited about until it was there. Something about lovely people handing out free Ghirardelli chocolate squares at mile 22 just made me feel a bit better about things. I ate two while running and stuffed three more into my fuel belt for later.

Finally, we got all the way around Lake Merced and back to the Great Highway for the final two-and-a-half miles. Breck saw the finish line well before I did, since she's pretty tall, but it was tough to keep going for the long, straight final stretch. I saw some stragglers coming up on the other side, before the lake, and felt very glad that I had that part over with. My legs felt dead, but one last water station around mile 25 with some Gatorade (and of course the awesome high school kids cheering us on) put a little life back into me, and we started running for the last time: no more walking until the finish. Eye of the Tiger conveniently started playing on the last set of speakers we passed, which made me feel unspeakably epic. Every other minute I could feel myself getting emotional already, but used all the mental energy I had left to hold it together until the finish line.

Running on empty.
So close, so far.
Then, after what must have been the longest mile of my life, I spotted Austin and Kelly one more time, couldn't help but smile for their pictures again as I gave a sloppy high five, and continued on to the finishing chute. Breck, being amazing, spotted another woman walking and yelled, "come on, run with us!" Then we were crossing over the mats at the end, and I could finally let go. We hugged, and the woman Breck cheered on at the end came and hugged us too. At that point I was half-sobbing, half-grinning, and staggering as I went to claim my finisher's necklace. I had done it, and I was amazed.

CARBS. Oh, and the finisher's necklace from Tiffany's.
So, after the finish and the first outpouring of emotion, my exhaustion--from lack of sleep and from having run a freaking marathon--hit me like a train. Austin and Kelly found me trying to eat a bagel, and waited with me while I stretched right on the ground. I said, "Please tell me you're not parked far away," so they responded, "oh, it's only 5 blocks." Heh. Sounded pretty far away to me. Anyway, my dad called, and I told him about it, which distracted me a bit from the walk. After climbing a small hill I said I couldn't do any more, and jokingly asked for a piggy-back ride. My lovely boyfriend refused, but Kelly, my new favorite person in the world, told me to climb on. She gave me a ride all the rest of the way, a couple more blocks while I talked to my mom, claiming I was super-light (maybe I was a bit dehydrated?). Anyway, she is still my hero for doing that.

My best friend in the whole world, especially right now.
Along the way it was pretty cool to see the various people who came to cheer us on. I wore my MIT shirt and had my name across my chest on a piece of duct tape, and I'm glad I did that. A lot of people yelled, "MIT!" or "Yeah east coast!" or "Go MIT!" which always made me smile. There were a ton of Team in Training coaches and cheerleaders along the way, and for most of the race they only yelled encouragement at the purple-jersey-wearing TNT runners, which made me feel a bit left out. For the last few miles, though, they were cheering on everybody, and my personal favorite was the woman who yelled, "come on MIT, you've been through tougher than this!" I had to laugh. Pretty cool to have random strangers shout your name just when you need it too.

Finally, a few thoughts on my time. Initially, I kept trying to tell myself my goal was just to finish, which is a good goal for a first marathon with so many unknowns waiting for you. Then, for my last few long runs, it seemed like I could be on pace for five hours. My wild impulse to follow the 4:50 pacer was me thinking maybe it could be possible to be under that, since 5 sounded like a pretty slow pace to me. But after a while I realized how silly I was being and how far I still had. Then I figured maybe I could do it in 5:15. Then I gave that up and decided I would be thrilled to finish on this side of 5:30. I thought it would still be possible as I passed mile 25, but I was no longer capable of running a 10-minute mile for number 26. And the .2 after that. I ended up taking 5:36:52, and I realized how amazing it is that I finished. As one of the Spirit of the Marathon runners said, I feel like I now have an extra layer. I will always be a marathoner. And, within a couple days, before I was even walking normally again (mind you I also biked to and from campus like usual the next morning!), I started thinking about how I could totally do better on my next one. Now I just need to sign up!

Well, once these blisters heal.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Golden Gate Headlands Half Marathon!

Turns out I'm not very good at this whole regularly updating a blog thing. But I figure that's okay, because at least my running is more consistent than my posting schedule. Sort of.

As you can see from the title of this post, I have not yet run a marathon. The eye doctor told me to take two weeks off when I started seeing occasional spots, so I missed weeks 7 and 8. No big deal, but I decided to gradually step up the long run to match the plan after about 3 weeks, since I didn't want to jump from 10 miles to 16. I got to the point where my longest run was 14 miles, which left me zombified, and then everything went crazy with my classes. I've learned not to do two projects at once, especially not when one of them is as intense as building an autonomous robot that plays basketball with a team that's counting on you, and especially when one of the teammates can't stand to work with you anymore (the feeling was mutual, but that's a whole other story that does not deserve to show up on the internet).

Long story short, the weeks when I was supposed to be running the most and pushing 40 I instead ran 0. I spent the three weeks left leading up to the race trying to get my cardiovascular fitness back, and I didn't do too badly, eventually getting back up to speed on short runs. But I didn't hit double digits with my weekly mileage until the actual race, which would have worried me a lot more had I still been insisting on running a full marathon. As it was, the messed up schedule was sort of like an extremely long taper.

Anyway, the race! Austin and I get up at 7 am and leave around 7:30 to drive to the Marin Headlands, Rodeo Beach, which is about an hour away. The night before I had already packed my fuel belt, Gatorade, GU, granola bars, Body Glide, jacket, extra water, and no sunscreen (oops...). The weather was going to be about 55-60 degrees and partly cloudy, which was perfect for a race. I got very excited once we pulled into the parking lot and I saw all the "real" runners warming up along the road.

Eventually I realized I was a "real" runner too, even if my warm-up routine was improvised.
A tiny glimpse of what was ahead of us
I went to switch my registration, which the race officials kept track of with pencil and paper. They gave me a sticker to put over my bib to indicate that I was running the half marathon--the full was neon green, half was white, and the 7-milers had bright pink. I was pretty excited, and after a trip to the Porta-Potty (luckily, this was a tiny race with only about 400 runners, so that line went quickly) I mostly just paced and ran back and forth giddily and took pictures while Austin trailed behind.

Game face. Note my super-cool fuel belt.

Then everyone gathered around for pre-race announcements. Literally gathered around. The guy who organized the race stood up on a rock and talked loudly as we all clustered around. He joked that we had chip timers because the little running dude in the Envirosports logo on our bibs was named "Chip." He urged us to stop and take in the view and told us that the "chip" would stop timing while we were stopped, then resume when we started running again, so we shouldn't worry about taking time to enjoy the run. He told us that on a lot of the back section, we would start asking who the hell designed this course. "My name is Dave," he said, and raised his hand. "You can take my name in vain as much as you want." He also said that the prize for the winner of each race would be a rubber chicken for the men, and a rubber chicken purse for the women, "since people complained we didn't have a prize purse."

The marathoners started first, after a countdown from 10 (and I think Dave actually did yell "GO!" at the end while we all cheered them on). Then the half-marathoners got in a much bigger cluster (there were over 200 of us, and less than 40 marathoners) and shuffled around until we felt like we were in the right place for our pace. Then we waited about 10 minutes for our own low-tech countdown.

To be continued after I run and go to class...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Week 3: Treadmills and the Runner's Trots

I'm almost done with week 5, but figured I may as well go back and make some posts before my memory gets too foggy. Without further ado:

Week 3: 3 4 3 7
Monday: 3
Wednesday: 4
Thursday: 3
Sunday: 7

It was interesting going from balmy 80-degree weather on Hawaii's North Shore to blizzard- and slush-ridden New Jersey. It would have been even more interesting had my flight not been canceled, leaving me an extra couple days to run in a more temperate climate in Palo Alto (on a random side note, I've noticed I keep wanting to type Palo Alot). So I had a nice, shorts-and-t-shirt run that didn't leave me dripping in sweat, which I did easily during the day before I left.

My flight was Monday night, which meant I would be landing early Tuesday morning. However, then commenced a fun exercise of sitting on the tarmac for two hours (which I didn't mind because I got some extra sleep), discovering that the shuttle to the Subway was closed, wandering around trying to find a way to the city that didn't involve a $100 cab ride (the line for which I hear was 90 minutes anyway, outside in the wind), waiting for some alleged bus while sitting on a non-refundable ticket for about 2 hours, waiting for another bus to come around because the first was full, then circling the airport at a crawl for another hour until we at last escaped the airport (we're at 5 hours for those of you counting at home) and arriving at Grand Central just one hour after that. On about 4 hours of sleep.

Anyway, I was pretty happy to finally get to the city to hang out with Erica for a little while. Then I got to go back to my dad's house and reunite with my winter boots, coat, and mittens. The next day was pretty bright and sunny and the temperature of 33 or so sounded almost reasonable. Then I saw the windchill and said no thanks. My dad conveniently has a decent treadmill in the basement facing the tv, so I found something good to watch (who watches actual tv on the tv anymore?) and settled in for four miles. It wasn't bad--I got to watch House, ironically the one about the extremely obese man who's dying from something other than being fat--and with the treadmill I knew exactly how much farther and longer I had to go. That knowledge is annoying when I'm less than halfway, but once I pass that point it's enjoyable to some extent to watch the numbers tick by.

The next day I was feeling similarly wimpy, but enjoyed watching some celebrity gossip show that made the 3 miles (33ish minutes) go by quickly. And I don't feel bad about watching trashy tv because I was also running, so that more or less balances it out.

The plan after that was to do the 7 miles on new year's, Saturday, my last day in New York, but Erica stayed over and I decided I'd rather hang out and talk to her. Maybe I'll see her around spring break? (Hint to Erica)

I made it back to California with much less headache than I had leaving it. Unfortunately the run I did the next day was a little too interesting (see title of post). For those of you who don't know, the trots is when you have the urge to go to the bathroom during the run, and it can be bad, potentially even ugly. I had mapped out a route through the suburban streets that was 3.5 miles out so that I could turn around and run back the same way. Hilariously, I got the trots exactly when I was farthest away from home. I tried unsuccessfully to find some hidden spot behind the trees lining the path (I was pretty desperate) but this being the suburbs, every spot was either inaccessible because it was too steep or it was in potential view of about three different houses. Each search only delayed my getting to an actual toilet, so I resigned myself to running quickly back to Austin's house, where I started from. I stopped as little as possible because that made it so much worse; luckily there were very few traffic lights. I finally made it, burst through the door, and brushed past Austin trying to greet me and a last got some relief. In summary, getting to the halfway point took 40 minutes, and then coming back took only 35. Looks like I just needed some inspiration to be quick on the long runs. But from now on I'm being much more careful about taking care of everything before I leave.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Week 2: Hot Humid Slog

This entry is a bit delayed, but better late than never? I hope the handful of you devoted readers think so. And, while I'm on California time in New York and everyone's asleep (it's past 4am here) might as well jot down some thoughts before they get too old.

So, the second week was definitely tougher than the first. The shininess of embarking on a new goal has faded a bit, but it's still pretty satisfying to keep those miles coming. Not going to lie, though, the first run this week was pretty tough. Austin wasn't feeling well, so he couldn't drive me to where the bike path started. Instead I began from the house, and had to run on the side of the road for pretty much the whole 3.1 miles. That, combined with the heavy hot air (rain in Hawaii, ugh) and a podcast about Tea Partiers put me in a bit of a foul mood. Funny enough, I did the same exact run 3 days later and listened to Phedippidations (an inspirational running podcast) and ran 2 minutes faster, granted with a tad less humidity. I think the takeaway though is that while I can't really control the weather or availability of rides to places, there are certain factors I can control that will make me feel better, like what I listen to and think about.

The other two runs were a 4-miler in between those two, which went smoothly along the bike path, and the 6-miler, my first hour-plus run. The schedule for the week looked like:

Monday: 3.1
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: 4
Thursday: 3.1
Friday: 6.4
Saturday: rest and air travel
Sunday: rest and canceled flight

The long run happened a day early because I thought I'd be flying all weekend: first from HI to CA and then CA to NY. The epic east coast blizzard happened on Sunday which ruined that, but that's another story. Anyway, what isn't up there is that Thursday also had an hour-long hike up and down a small mountain to see a lighthouse, so that combined with no rest day meant my legs were tired and I could feel it as soon as I started the long run. But I went slow, enjoyed myself, and stayed relaxed and happy. I was glad I had grabbed a water bottle to take with me too. (Next step: carbs.)

It took 1:17 or so of running with some walk breaks, but that with stretching and cooling down and minutes docked for fixing my hair and other things made Austin worried enough to go looking for me. Of course, he happened to set out right when I was in the backyard stretching, but his mom called him and he reappeared about 5 minutes later.

Later we met up with his friends for a 4.25 mile hike, of course, because Austin wants exercise too. After the short run and hike Thursday followed by a very long Friday, I was pretty content to sit on a plane for a while last Saturday for the return to California and ideal running temperatures. And thus concluded week 2.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shaking the dust off

Hey to any of you out there still reading (also, thanks for coming back after it's been so long)!

Big stuff first. This September I moved out to Stanford in northern California to start a masters program in mechanical engineering, and have officially finished my first quarter. I met an awesome guy on the internet and he now takes up more time than any one of my classes, but I don't mind (he's a part-time Stanford student while he works at Sun, and graduated last June too from Harvey Mudd, totally not sketchy at all). I also completed the Norcal Warrior Dash on October 31 with just about no training, 3.5 miles or so in 35:something or other, and finished in about the top 40% of everyone and way better than that for women only. Here's a picture of me jumping over flames for good measure:
Also shamelessly stolen from the professional photography website that wants to charge $20 for the version without the watermark
But here's something else big: the Golden Gate Headlands marathon, April 2, and I signed up. Here's more about it:

Apparently it's got great views, but it will be a difficult double loop on a trail, so training on hills will happen. Luckily there's the dish, a very hilly 3.5 mile loop, about 1.2 miles away from my door, for when the runs get a bit longer.

Anyway, my boy is from Hawaii, which is where I am now and where I got to kick off week 1 of marathon training. This week I did 3-4-3-5 according to the plan, which really ended up being 3.7 - 4.3 - 2.6 - 5.3 but that's close enough. This coming week, the plan is 3-4-3-6. As long as I stay out of the major heat from 10-2, I'm okay. Made that mistake a few times this past week, though. Now I only have 15 more weeks to go, or 60 more runs including the marathon itself. I'll try to update at least once a week to give any thoughts I had on how the week went, or more if I have something to say. It looks like the plan will generally be:

M: short
T: slightly longer
W: rest
R: short
F: rest
Sat: loooong
Sun: rest

Rinse, and repeat. (The plan advises resting the day before and the day after the long run, so T/W can be switched, and the longest run is 18 miles.) Since I come back from Hawaii this weekend and head to New York the next day, the long run will probably have to happen on Friday this week. We'll see how it goes. Also need to gear up for the shock of east coast winter after all my balmy 70-80 F runs. Maybe I'll wish for it if I sleep in too much though, and get caught in that heat. Hmm.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Goodbye to bridge loops?

Yes, I intended this to be primarily a running blog. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing much running lately, not even since I became a college graduate at the beginning of June. Actually, make that any. At all the checkups following my second eye surgery, I grumble a bit about not being able to run like I want to. I make sure to ask about all the other details I can think of too--

Can I sleep on my back yet? (No)
Can I lift weights? (Only if they're very light)
Can I swim? (That should be okay)
Can I do anything besides the exercise bike? (Elliptical)
How long until I see with both eyes again? (Can't make promises)
How long until you'll be able to "call it" healed and I can go into maintenance mode? (6 months if everything stays fine...)

After the first surgery I looked forward to these frequent eye checkups, because every time I went I was allowed to do more things. At the end of June, though, I was told I could only do low-impact stuff and could still only pick from two sleeping positions. That's when I understood how worried my first surgeon was that the retina might detach again. (He's the one who, my mom says, returned after 3-and-a-half hours "looking like he'd been through the wringer" after the nighttime ordeal in February that took nearly twice as long as it should have. His partner did the second surgery, which was much less complicated except for that little hiccup where my retina wouldn't stay completely put and had to be fixed right there, hence the worry, I guess.)

So, turns out they were right to worry. This past Monday I was sitting in class (I'm tutoring for a summer program where we teach high school girls about mechanical engineering--staying local because I knew the air bubble would prevent me from being able to fly). I had been watching the air bubble's edge slowly retreat downwards, as the doctors said it would because everything in the eye is reflected along the x-axis. Closing the good eye and shaking my head slightly to make it move had become a new little tic since I began seeing the edge a few weeks ago. That day, I realized suddenly that everything had become much more dim and I could barely make out the formerly sharp dividing line as it jiggled. Doctor Number One had told me to call if I noticed any sudden decrease in vision, so I quietly slipped out of the classroom and called the office. Monday being July 5th, the office was closed (oh right) but I dialed "1" for medical emergency and spoke to the doctor on call, the new fellow (the old one liked to promise too much, like I might not even have to lie down for a whole week, ha). Unfortunately there was little point coming in since if something was wrong they wouldn't be able to do anything, so tomorrow would be better, etc. etc.

I spent the rest of the day worrying, trying not to snap at people, convincing myself that things would work out, verging on rage about the unfairness, and venting my stress to anyone at pika who would stand still long enough. Then at 9 am Tuesday morning I was in the doctor's office, within half an hour he had taken a few looks and decided my retina had certainly re-detached, and was laying out a plan of action which of course involved at least two more surgeries. The catch is he couldn't even see how bad it was because my cataract has grown so much, so I guess it was like trying to diagnose through a literal fog. He said he doesn't think it looks bad and it should be fixable.

So here's the deal: this Tuesday (three days from now), I will show up at 6:30 am (subject to change), and I will get a lensectomy, vitrectomy, membranectomy, silicone oil injection, and laser. You know, typical things a 22-year-old always wants. If nothing else goes wrong (and once they're sure it won't, maybe in 6 more months), I will get the oil taken out yet again and replaced with a new gas bubble, lie on my face, watch it disappear, don't fly, the whole drill. Dr. Number Two says he knows an important guy at Stanford Medical School, also an excellent retinal specialist, whom I'm sure I'll see a lot starting in September. Then, much later if I want (as long as everything stays fine) I can get a lens implant to replace the one they're taking. Apparently that's optional, though, unless I misunderstood, since sometimes people just use contact lenses. This detail prompted one of my pika friends to wonder just how much of your eye you actually need, since I apparently won't have (or need) a vitreous or a lens anymore, so I'll ask. Apparently the retina is pretty important, though, since that's the part they're actually worried about...

Ugh. If you're still reading, thank you. I just had to get this all out because every so often I get frustrated and upset about it all. All the things I can't do right now, everything I've been through and still have yet to come, the uncertainty and slim-but-still-present chance that in the end all of this won't even help and I'll just be half-blind forever. I would much rather not run for a year (or two, or...) than never be able to use the left eye again, so this is what I have to do. More updates to follow, I guess.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Not quite back, but here's a post

Turns out typing is pretty difficult when you have to keep your head horizontal. On my right side my bottom arm would get tired very quickly and/or lose circulation. On my stomach with the computer on the floor, both my arms were in awkward positions and there wasn't an ergonomic way to tilt both the keyboard and the screen. Sitting up, my hands were free but I had to crane my neck. So I saved most of the typing energy for gchatting with friends, which was time pretty well spent.

But, I've been upright for almost a week now (since Tuesday), I am! Unfortunately, the only exercise I'm allowed to do so far is the stationary bike, and possibly the elliptical, which are a far cry from all the running I was doing. I had just gotten to the point where starting my runs felt like such a natural fluid motion, and something to really look forward to, not just something to do because I knew it was good for me and maybe eventually I would enjoy it.

Well, now I just get to look forward to it for a longer time. I see a doctor again on the 29th, and it's possible they'll also let me swim. I can understand that having even less depth perception than before makes them hesitant to tell me I can go run through the streets of Boston, and they're also worried about all the jostling, but there's nothing wrong with a nice, safe, low-impact pool, right? Maybe I'll even become a triathlete after all this cross-training. And, probably the coolest part is that I can watch the progress of the bubble in my eye as it dissipates. The doctor said I would start to see a line, and I finally noticed it on Friday. Apparently it will move downwards as it shrinks, since even though the bubble is actually floating, what you actually perceive inside your eye gets automatically mirrored in your brain (along the horizontal axis). I actually find this part awesome.

Anyway, for the past two days I've done a stationary bike workout, and while it's not nearly as satisfying as "going for a run," it is nice to watch the miles tick by so quickly on the counter. I average about one every five minutes, or twice as many as when I run for the same length of time. So far I've gone 20 miles in two days, assuming it's accurate, which seems reasonable. And it's really only as boring as what I bring with me to read. Yesterday was an issue of Runner's World, and today was some Feynman physics lectures. Maybe next I'll try a trashy magazine...