Sunday, September 28, 2014


Steep! NW 85th Ave @ 32nd Ave NW
It's been just over a week since the Beat the Blerch Marathon. I was pretty disappointed with how the marathon went overall for me. No, it wasn't a PW (personal worst) but it was pretty close. There was no way I could've maintained anywhere close to a race pace for the distance. That really was the whole point of doing the marathon as a training run so this was pretty discouraging.

However, I don't ever discount that I did run a marathon and that is something to celebrate. Even better? Recovery from the long run seems to have gone well. I took three full days off from running. I did bike on the roller trainer that third day. I had no trouble at work walking around or walking up and down stairs so that was encouraging. The big indicator that I had run long? I brought lots of extra snacks to work but still was ever so hungry. That finally settled down Thursday.

I ran wednesday and thursday and importantly, I was looking forward to these run and enjoyed them. Saturday I figured out a new running course which incorporated some interesting stairs and short easy trails on a run course I've run for years. I've never been on those stairs or trails so that was really fun. The loop itself ended up being just a little long for what my tired legs wanted. At mile 9, i was having to make sure to pick my feet up carefully when running as I was afraid of tripping! I was able to cut it a bit shorter and enjoyed 10.5 miles. I'm having just a touch of heel pain (bursitis) and plan on working hard to manage that.

This coming week will still be a careful week. I plan on trying an easier workout and increasing miles. The last few miles of the marathon I grumbled to myself about pulling out of the longer distance events I'm planning on but recovery has put things sensibly into perspective. I'm still aiming for those goals that I have and I'm ready to engage in training again. I love the lifestyle and the feeling of working towards the distances.

New growth on the dead looking stalk.
Rejuvenation? Certainly. The recovery weeks are important. It's important to remind myself of why I do this. This weekend was also a chance to get back out into the garden. There are limited gardening hours left now. It's getting dark quickly after work and we've had some good preview Fall storms. Soon, it'll be too wet and cold to work in the yard.

I have some volunteer plants that have come up in the front yard which will be perfect for the backyard.  three weeks ago, we moved a flowering current that was a volunteer plant in the front yard. I had the perfect place for it in the back yard. Unfortunately when moving it, the main root got severed plus it had been hot. I figured it would die but kept it watered. And amazingly, it has come back and put out new growth!

You just never know how things will turn out. I keep reminding myself about this with races too. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beat the Blerch Marathon Part 2

The full cake shirt and medal.

So I ran a marathon. This was number 8. I knew I'd run this race as a training run but I followed the training plan (Runner Academy Advanced Marathon Plan) like this was my goal race. I did do that 10k two weeks before (off plan) but have otherwise been tapering for this after a solid 9 weeks of higher mileage and feeling great.

Taper sucked. Of course. As usual the week before the marathon, I was super stiff verging on sore, quite grumpy and those easy short runs where I should've been needing to really slow myself
down? I could barely get any faster than a recovery pace. I tried not to worry about that because after all, that's how i always feel before a marathon. I kept the same foam roller routine in and did some easy yoga here and there which did help. I ate well but mindfully bring a broader range of snacks to work which had higher protein and fat (nuts, pb) and days before the marathon I started adding in more carbs (juice, milk - less fiber...).  I felt lean and strong really.

I finally decided on my goals for this event. I would focus on staying relaxed and practicing positive mental talk. I knew my feet would hurt on that gravel trail and that was going to be ok. Typically i feel sort of awful somewhere around mile 12 -15 and that would be ok too. I'd run at an easy pace 9:45-10:00 paying strict attention to nutrition. A gel every 4 miles or about 40 minutes should work. Nutella sandwiches were featured as aid station fodder and I thought that would be an excellent supplement. I did bring an electrolyte capsules and had one at 1 hour. overall I had 7 gels and 3/4 of a nutella sandwich plus lots of water.

I would walk through the aid stations from the beginning but otherwise would not walk. The aid stations were well spaced at 1.5, 4.3, 7.5, 10.3, 12, 15, 18, 20, 23 and because this was an out and back course, I'd see my friends manning the aid station C at 10.3 and mile 20. K was coming out to support and I saw him first at mile 6 then he went onto the aid station and ended up helping out there when it got really busy.

My last goal was to speed up my pace for 90 seconds at the start of each mile starting at mile 17. I'd aim for goal marathon pace (around 8:40-8:45) figuring that if I planned to actually run a marathon at that pace i should be able to do this for just a minute towards the end. 

I hitched a ride with some friends to the start and ended up getting a great parking spot very close to the start. Here we could also spot other friends running. It was fun to chat and before I knew it, it was time to strip off my extra layer and head to the start. It was foggy and pleasant out. It felt cooler but not really that cool as it was 55-60 degrees. it was pleasant for running but I knew I'd be happier if it was colder and the sun stayed away. 

RPD out on course.
Mr Oatmeal spoke a few worlds before the race. It really was amazing that all that craziness was a direct result of a comic! He'd been doing his own endurance event at packet pick up the day before (10 am to 7 pm signing books and chatting with fans) and then would run an event each day as well as stay to sign books again after each race. Phew! Good thing he is a distance runner!

Splits: 9:45, 9:36, 9:42, 9:48, 10:07, 9:53
We were off right on time and I was excited to finally be running. The miles ticked off pretty quickly. The marathon course had two shorter out and back sections before starting the main out and back section. It was nice to get these shorter sections out of the way early. I did well at keeping pace to goal for the first 10k even with teh slight downhill in mile 2 and 3. I did walk briefly for those first two aid stations and saw K for the first time at 5.75. He could switch out my small handheld water bottle and he'd brought a different pair of shoes for me as a "just in case." I chose to wear my normal trainer shoes but if the gravel really bothered me I could switch to my trail shoes if needed. It was a very nice pick me up to see him.

Splits 9:48, 10:23, 9:52, 9:53, 10:34, 9:55
Motivational signs.
At mile 6, the trail following the old railroad line begins a very gradual grade. It's just enough that maybe you'll feel it if running hard. I expected to slow just a bit through here but I kept it even and enjoyed steadily passing the slower run/walkers of the half event which had started 30 minutes later. The first large aid station at 7.5 had a couch and people dressed up as Blerches. I was shocked and delighted to realize I knew the gal who was dressed up so stood in line just a bit to take a photo! I also saw LMA and RPD running towards me as they were running the half. Of course I stopped to take a photo! It was great to see them.  K was at the 10 mile water stop and very busy along with all the other volunteers. I knew it would be quieter as I came back through the second time at mile 20.

Splits 10:27, 10:07, 10:01, 10:38
Just past this busy section of the trail, the half marathoners turned around and suddenly it was very peaceful with just a few other marathoners around. Sometimes this can be challenging but I enjoyed the quiet on a very pretty day with foggy views every once in a while. It was peaceful for only a short bit though as we pass what seems like very close to a shooting range. It was startling how loud and how frequent gun fire was. As I expected, I started to feel pretty awful around mile 12 or 13. At this point I did take a gel early instead of waiting until 12. My feet were really hurting in through here. I think the incline was subtly more here plus it was a little deeper gravel which required stricter attention to avoid landing on larger chunks. I was delighted to see the turn around point at mile 16 and refilled my water bottle and looked forward to heading back down to the finish.

splits: 9:59, 9:43, 9:53, 9:47, 10:45
The first short 90 second burst of speed at mile 17 went well and I was encouraged. I have done a couple long runs like this before and knew that just this short bit of speeding up would drop my overall pace just a bit. I wanted to maintain this all the way through to the finish but felt it was more important to take that promised mental break at aid stations if the aid stations showed up during the pick up. Before I knew it I was back at the 20 mile aid station where i knew a few other runners who were volunteering and of cousre K was there. I'd taken a gel early again around mile 17 and enjoyed a quarter of a nutella sandwich plus water at the aid station. K grabbed my inhaler for me which I used. I felt like my lungs were getting tight although I think some of that is just muscles surrounding my chest and lungs feeling tired. Anyway the inhaler helped. I handed off my water bottle as I was tired of carrying it at that point. I knew I could get enough water at the aid stations. The trail was mostly shaded but it was getting warmer.
Finisher with banana and nutella prize.

Splits 11:28, 12:01, 13:04, 13:58, 13:20
And then I was done. My running devolved to the dreaded shuffling slog and there was nothing I could do to speed up. I tried changing my gait but didn't have any success. I wasn't alone. I was seeing people walking quite a bit in here. I did keep my goals and kept running just very slowly except for one demoralizing straight and hot section which looked uphill right around mile 23.5. I got tired of the pity party though and started running again. As I crossed the road around mile 24, a runner who'd run the 10k (different colored bib) said "you are almost there!" I tried not to snarl too much as I scoffed at him "I am NOT!" He seemed surprised by my response but if you've run a marathon you know you are almost done when you can see the finish and not anytime sooner!

I did make sure to jump and try to make interesting photo opportunities with the last photographers on course. I hope they turn out!

Finish Time: 4:38 - 10:37 overall pace
4th in AG in 10 year increments
70th of 190 finishers, 20th female of 88. 

So much for maintaining a long run pace or being able to run any part of a marathon at a goal marathon pace. I'm disappointed and a bit befuddled about what I could do differently. I certainly could not have raced a marathon this weekend. The day after, I'm overall stiff and sore as expected but nothing is hurting. I'm sure if I tried running, I'd really notice my hip flexors and hamstrings plus my feet would yell about pounding. I'll take the recovery and then build to the next event in early November as planned.

I did execute my race plan including keeping up the mental spirits during the last miles when I was not feeling so hot. I really enjoyed the marathon plan I was using. It was challenging yet doable and did give me confidence that I can handle a more aggressive training plan in general. These are valuable lessons! And this was really a fantastic event overall and I'm pleased to say that yes, I did beat the Blerch!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beat the Blerch Marathon part 1

At the Start
What is a Blerch you ask? Read this online comic about the Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances and you'll know that the blerch is that little voice in your head which lets you sit on the couch eating junk food. you know you'll feel better if you get up and are active and eat better but sitting on that couch is so much easier.

The Oatmeal (Matt Inman) released this comic in late 2013 and it took the running world by storm. Every runner I knew was telling  me about this comic and could relate to something in it. As a friend of a friend, I knew that Mr. Oatmeal wanted to put on his own trail race and when this comic was so popular, I knew he was looking for the Blerch themed race.

And he did it and announced the innaugural Beat the Blerch race here in the Seattle area featuring 3 distances of 10k, half marathon and full marathon. This was a very popular event. The race sign up closed in 30 minutes and crashed the sign up servers. I was one of the lucky few (capped at 2000) who got in. with such popularity, they announced that there would be second day of events on the same weekend. So I had signed up for the sunday race but there would also be races on saturday. I really wanted to sign up for the inaugural marathon and was able to switch my registration.

I had quite a few friends who were signed up for various distances and the group that I run with was also hosting a volunteer aid station so I knew it would be a fun event not only because the Oatmeal was promising cake, nutella, magical grape drink, running blerches and other fun stuff (read the comic!).
Motivational (?) signs.

However, I signed up for this race in late March and at that point had no idea what my running goals were. I'd hoped to aim for racing (as opposed to finishing) a marathon but this particular race would not be conducive to that goal. So I always had it in my head that this would just be a race to run for fun as a training run.  

Fast forward to this summer and this race perfectly fit into my race goals for the end of the year. For me, it was not ever going to be anything but a fun run.

Late September can be warm or cool here. This race had a rather late 9 am race start which was very nice for getting out to the area from Seattle. Given that late start and how long it takes to run a marathon, the chances of it being very warm were high. This race course was all on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail which is a 31 mile long gravel trail. It's a fantastic training trail for both cycling and running but that gravel starts to bother me after a while.

This race also promised a lot of other fun distractions. There were supposed to be couches out on course with people dressed up as blerches. Aid stations featured cake and nutella. There were a lot of on course photographers and photos were supposed to be free so i did make sure to take advantage of that. And it was a great atmosphere with lots of people dressed up and everyone in a great mood.

For an inaugular race, this was very well done. I know people were concerned about parking in the area but overall I think it was not a problem. There was plenty of parking in various lots all fairly close to the main park which had limited parking to volunteers and those who bought a parking pass.

I would guess that for the 10k and the half that it might have been a bit crowded on the race course the first mile as it is a fairly narrow paved trail for the first half mile and then onto a rocky trail. The marathon had 190 finishers but the 10k and half both had about 700 finishers each. Each race had their own start which was good. I was running and coming up on the last run/walkers of the half and there was enough traffic to have to pay attention but nothing too crowded.

I did hear some complaints about limited portopotties on the course. Note that there seemed to be plenty at the race start but this trail has limited access points plus it is narrow so there are not a lot of options for many portopotties at the aid stations. I'd even heard that the aid station at mile 6/7 for half and 10/20 for full marathoners was supposed to have a portopotty but some local challenged the delivery of the portopotty the day before and it was thus not delivered.

My only complaint, between nutella sandwhiches, cake and grape electrolyte drink to the usual bananas and gels at the aid stations and back at the finish there was nothing that was salty to have. I did bring my own electrolyte tablets but would've been super happy with some potato chips at the finish. I guess there had been some but they ran out by the time I finished.

Congrats Mr. Oatmeal! You did good!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Women of Wonder 10k

Last year, i did this race as a tempo run and I'd had it in my mind that I wanted to race it the following year. It's a really fun all women's race with some nice perks and one big negative.

Once I'd plotted out my training schedule though I realized that this 10k was just two weeks before Beat the Blerch marathon. That seemed too close until I decided to use the Blerch run as a training run. Game on!

The perks:

with mimosa
Women only. It's different racing with only women. The announcers at the start (both male) kept trying to talk to some young competitors lined up at the front. And the announcer was making it a competition as in, you'll beat her right? Uh. That girl was a bit hesitant. Sure, everyone is out to run their best but the competition among women is less stated. I find it refreshing not to have to worry about passing a guy and having him pass me right back because he is getting "chicked." Yes, that's the term. There are less distractions.

Location! This race is just a couple miles from my house and it's easy to deal with parking. I got the event about 90 minutes before the start so i could do a 3 mile run around the lake.

9:30 am start. It's rather nice not to have to get up when it is dark.

Atmosphere. This is the Women of Wonder so there are a lot of costumes and everyone is in a great mood. For a lot of the athletes this is their goal race and they've been training for it. There is a lot of excitement and energy surrounding this that I really enjoy.

Mimosas! Instead of a beer garden, this race had a mimosa and wine garden at the end. I had to partake. It was a nice change from the usually bad beer served.

There are few cons. That late start which is nice for sleeping in means that it can get warm. And sure enough, by the race start it was probably 65 degrees and blazingly sunny. I was overheating the second loop of the 10k as the temperatures were definitely climbing.

The biggest con is the course for the 10k. It's a two loop course so the faster 10k runners end up dodging through the ranks of the 5k walkers/slower runners. I thought i was probably capable of around 7:35 pace although I didn't take into account the heat and probably started too fast for that. I ran the first 5k in 23:19 (7:31 pace) and felt great. I'd been around a few other runners but as expected, they pulled off to the finish and suddenly i was totally alone on the course. I expected this and just concentrated on maintaining the momentum.  I did with a 7:35 mile 4. And then I realized I was so hot and thirsty.  Thirsty? I don't typically need to take water for a 10k but I did for this one and used a cup of water to splash on my face/chest. I was that hot all of a sudden.

Now i had just two miles left but I was hot and I would have to dodge through all the traffic. Let's just say that I did my best and held on better than I thought I would.  The course itself was marked for the street (I know because I've seen them using a measuring wheel for other races around this lake) and takes the shortest line which is called running the tangents. On this race, the course is marked on the road but there is a gravel path which runs inside the road. I chose to run on this path because it was easier than dodging all the walkers. Of course, I hate gravel and I did have to dodge the occasional stroller and it felt like I was cheating by taking an inside line. 

I got passed by two 10k runners towards the end but I'd really seen no other runner except one probably a quarter mile ahead. I had been hoping to run the 10k closer to 47 minutes flat. However this course seems pretty long because even with the cutting and taking the inside line, it still measured longer than I expected at 6.28. My next goal with the race was to come under 48 minutes. I missed that by 6 seconds (48:07) but that is still the fastest 10k time i've had in a couple years. More importantly, I battled through and held on even with the heat.

I can't discount accumulated training fatigue either. This was the first taper week but I ran 11 miles midweek and had some interesting workouts. I took it easy the few days before the race but training has been good for the marathon and that is definitely the main focus.

I was delighted to place 2nd in my age group and 10th female overall.  And I really enjoyed that mimosa! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Taper! it's getting real now

Last weekend I had my last long run for this cycle before I start tapering for the Beat the Blerch Marathon. Yes, the marathon plan called for a 22 mile or 3 hour run whichever came first.  After a long run on the flat gravel that will be the race course in 3 weeks, i really was not looking forward to a flat road run in the city. Fortunately  this plan is flexible enough that I could join a group run and get some trails in instead! 

The Paradise Valley Conservation Area is a new trail system for me about a 30 minute drive northeast. It's easy to get to from here. It is comparable to my favorite trail area Soaring Eagle out in Sammamish in that the trails are never steep. These trails are perhaps less technical than out at Soaring Eagle but there is plenty of forested goodness to keep me happy. I really enjoyed just being able to run continuously and since I wasn't marking a group run course, i also didn't have to think and plan out a course.

My only goal was to keep this a true easy run and these trails were perfect for that. I ran with TR (pictured above) who was marking the course and it ended up being a really nice relaxed long run. I still managed nutrition (3 gels) and made sure to keep the effort even. We did a 5 mile loop three times. The first loop was 1:04, the second loop was 1:04. You can't get any more even than that! Would I switch out all my road long runs for trail runs like this? No. This is definitely a harder run in that it requires more strength overall but using the different muscles require for trail running really helped keeping everything feeling good. 

I can't wait to go back to this trail area! It's easier to get to than Soaring Eagle and will be a great resource during winter for longer trail runs. Meanwhile, last long run is done. It was great to sleep in for two days in a row because of the Labor Day Holiday.