Friday, June 29, 2012

What It's Like Running In Luna Sandals

I recently took minimalist running to an entirely new level. I've started running in sandals. What has compelled me to do such a thing?

At last May's Born To Run Ultramarathon, I had the pleasure of both meeting some of the creative minds behind Luna Sandals, and witnessed several of the "Lunar Monkeys" (their affectionate nickname for the sponsored sandal-runners) take on the ultras in them. Patrick Sweeney won the men's 50K at the Born To Run Ultra in a pair, and has won a considerable amount of other races donning them as well. It was one of those situations where you really can't believe it until you see it. Well, I saw it with my own two eyes and was blown away. The biggest question I had lurking in my mind was, how often do you stub your toes? I asked Sweeney, "Come on, be honest, how often do you stub your toes?" He laughed, "Surprisingly, never! I've kicked rocks a few times, but never stubbed my toes! The rocks actually roll over the top of my feet sometimes. That's about it."

The "Original Luna" Sandal

Since I wear sandals 90% of the time when I'm not running, the idea of always having my feet be free (and have no ugly sock tan-lines) started to compel me to buy a pair for myself. But before I tell you about my own experience running in them, let me give you a little background on Luna Sandals. 

Traditional Tarahumara Huarache Sandals

In 2006, as chronicled in Born To Run, Ted McDonald (Barefoot Ted) and six other elite ultrarunners visited the Copper Canyons in Mexico. They found that the native Tarahumara ("the running people") wore traditional huarache sandals made out of old tires and rope. McDonald is arguably one of the biggest contributing factors to the massive popularity boom in minimalist running. He ran the first Copper Canyon Ultra in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, and when he returned to the states, he told anybody and everybody who would listen. Many did, and now you can currently find minimalist shoes in all the major running shoe brands (along with Vibram soles). While he was in the Copper Canyons, he also befriended Manuel Luna, a local sandal-maker. McDonald asked Luna to make him a pair of sandals, and well, the rest is history!

Here is Manuel Luna making Barefoot Ted's first pair of traditional huaraches! Photo Credit: Luis Escobar and

Luna Sandals represents a movement that is not just minimalist, but more so towards our natural form. On Luna Sandal's website, they state: 

"We believe that when we become more connected and in tune with our own bodies, as well as with each other, we can often regain a fundamental source of happiness and good health. Our bodies are not broken by design, and when we trust them, our instincts, and our desires, we often find a more genuine expression of who we are."

Adventure World Magazine stated "If you want a pair of high-quality, low maintenance minimalist footwear, get a pair of Luna Sandals."

Ok, so that's the background information. Now, let me tell you about my experience running in them.

My Luna Sandals...still figuring out how to tie them right!

After much deliberation (and looking at the comparison chart on the website) I decided to purchase the Leadville Pacer with the copper-brown suede sole and elasticized leather laces. They weight in at about 6.7 oz, and the sole thickness is at 6mm. They are designed primarily for dry trails, and the added thickness (compared to the thinner and lighter versions) help with the feeling of rocks/technical trails. They are not recommended for wet conditions (hence the suede) but are versatile enough to use on the road. 

With any minimalist footwear, it is always recommended that you adjust gradually to the shoes. I'd learned the hard way when I transitioned from cushioned shoes to my minimalist-style Merrells (and earned myself a stress fracture). So, I took them out on a short run and light run when I got them. 

I decided to run around my neighborhood, so it was primarily on road/sidewalk. The whole time, I was focusing on picking up my feet (I was afraid of tripping from the tops of the sandals catching on the gaps between sidewalk slabs). I also was focusing on maintaining good running form-- there is nothing worse than bad form in non-supportive shoes. Easy, light, smooth, was my mantra the entire time. The sandals felt great. Even more, it was really nice to have my feet be able to breathe. I never realized how confining socks and shoes felt while I was running until I finally ran without them on! I made it home three miles later, completely exhilarated, injury and trip-free! And they didn't fall apart, untie themselves, or cause blisters.

My cousin, Lindsay, asked me about the strap between the toes. She expected them to be annoying, but I was glad to report that they didn't bother me one bit. I ran in them a second time two days ago, and was delighted that I had another injury-free, trip-free, and blister-free run. Now was the real test: taking them on the trails. Today I took them on a quick trail run near my house, which although is not very technical, it has some large uphills and downhills. I was a little nervous during the downhills, but overall the sandals performed fantastically.

My ultimate goal is to be able to run primarily in the sandals (with the exception of extremely technical trails and muddy/wet conditions). It would be even more awesome to be able to race in them (like in the Copper Canyon Ultra, where they originated from). Pssst, Luna Sandals, if you're ever looking for a female-Lunar Monkey, I'm your gal! ;-)

Luna Sandals are not for everybody. But if you're like me, and prefer a minimalist approach to running (and life), a pair of Luna Sandals is a perfect addition to your footwear collection. And, might I add, they not only are great running sandals but they are also great everyday sandals as well.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How Running Inspired Me To Do a 30-Day Vegan Challenge

For as long as I can remember, I've always had a sweet tooth. In fact, I not only have a sweet tooth, but I also have a salt tooth, cheese tooth, and bread tooth. When I was a kid, I remember stock-piling candy bars, chocolate, cereals, and other novelties in a little cabinet in our kitchen. I didn't want anyone to sneak into my "stash" and had little interest in anything growing in my Grandmother's garden.

In high school, during my Track & Field practices, I'd pound RedBulls, eat McDonalds, and joke about my body being invincible. I had my grandparents buy me Costo-sized 30-pack of Craft Mac & Cheese (I'd finish the 30 boxes in less than a month). Sourdough toast with raspberry jelly was a staple in my diet. I figured since I was still standing and able to keep up with everyone else on my team, I was immune to whatever "bad stuff" was in the food I was eating. I was wrong.

As I've gotten older, I've watched my body become more and more sensitive to the food I eat. Dairy products? Forget about it. It seems like a cruel world, considering my favorite foods are burgers and macaroni and cheese. But after countless nights spent clutching my stomach, wishing to be put out of my own misery, I finally decided to kick cheese to the curb. That helped a little bit. Then, to my horror, bread started to make my stomach hurt, too. Sugar started making my body feel weird, and salt started giving me migraines. What was going on?

I'd spent my entire life eating whatever I wanted. Reality seemed to kick me on my ass, hard. 

Burgers, macaroni and cheese, toast, cereal, and candy are not real foods. They are empty calories, and our bodies are incredible for being able to do something with them in the first place. I am done torturing my body.

My first step was educating myself.

Scott Jurek cooking up his favorite vegetable stir fry!
Scott Jurek's book, Eat & Run, chronicles his transformation into an ultrarunner and how turning vegan helped him become the seven-time winner of the Western States 100. His book impacted me in many ways. He describes growing up in a small town in Minnesota, where his dad taught him how to hunt, skin and prepare the animals he killed. He loved meat, salt, and had no desire to eat fruits and vegetables. He transitioned, however, when he discovered that eating whole foods gave his body an incredible amount of fuel compared to the other foods he was used to eating. He talked about his struggles to maintain being a vegan, the countless criticisms he received, and the moments when he was forced to eat animal products for survival purposes.

Jurek is not the only athlete who has turned vegan and saw incredible results. In Rich Roll's new book, Finding Ultra, he describes a similar experience of turning vegan and seeing an incredible shift in his bodies capabilities. You can go here to see an extensive list of vegan athletes and their numerous achievements. It's not dumb luck that these athletes became even greater athletes because of their diet.

If I went on a vegan diet, would I become stronger and faster, too?

There is only one way to find out.

I'm not becoming a vegan to lose weight. I'm not becoming a vegan because I feel sorry for animals (although I do think that the treatment of animals raised for their flesh to be cruel). I'm doing a 30-Day Vegan Challenge to see how it effects my running. I want to fuel my body with the cleanest, most nutritious properties possible. I want to see if my muscles heal faster. I want to see if I have more sustained energy. I want to see if I can go an entire month without a stomach ache. 

If I can spend my entire life up until this point eating anything and everything, I can handle one month of guaranteed clean, healthy eating. One thing I know, for sure, is that I will not regret it.

Wish me luck :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Ups and Downs of the San Francisco Half-Marathon

It took seven long hours for my friends Bobby, Michelle and I to reach San Francisco from Ventura. I spent the better part of the journey squished in the back of the car reading Scott Jurek's book Eat & Run (there really is no good and comfortable way to travel long distances). I also managed to crochet Michelle a miniature owl to hang from her rear-view mirror (Bobby said it kept staring at him during the drive!). Michelle even recreated the Battle of the Bulge, right on the car's dashboard!

But if I'm being totally honest here, I was completely exhausted. I was going off two days of sleeping less than 4 hours each night. I knew this would be a recipe for disaster for my race, but there are just some things in life that we cannot help. Still gotta keep your head up!

We arrived at our awesome hostel, the Amsterdam, in the early afternoon. San Francisco really has the best hostels. After putting our stuff down in our room and checking out the place, we went off to explore the city a little and get our bearings (and a few local beers).

Bobby and Michelle checking out the San Fran map. I was more concerned with the pub crawl poster on the bottom left of the picture.

Before we knew it, we were climbing into our bunk beds to get ready for Bobby and I's race the next morning. Michelle's knee was still plotting against her, so she had the luxury of going to the event without the added anxiety of racing. I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat. But, on the other hand, who else would take awesome pictures? Yay for her and her zoom lens! And for being able to hold my stuff for me during my race ;-)

I set my alarm for around 5:30 AM to wake up (the race start was scheduled for 8 AM...yay more sleep time!) Of course...I slept in a little too much. My lack of sleep was really starting to affect me. We left the hostel around 7 AM, and since a bus ride from our hostel to the Golden Gate Bridge was suppose to take only 30 minutes, we figured we'd have perfect timing. Packet pick-up was scheduled for 6-7:45 AM so if everything planned out accordingly, we should arrive at 7:30 with plenty of time to pick up our bibs, stand in line at the port-a-potties and get to the race start.

If I've learned one thing about life by now, it's that things never go as planned. The picture below marks a moment of miscalculation and horror- when we realized that we were going in the wrong direction. "Please please please, little blue dot, go the other way!"

In our excitement over finding the bus stop in time, and seeing the number on the bus that we were looking for, we completely forgot to check the direction the bus was going. We had a 50/50 chance, and well, it just wasn't our day.

Commence panic. Because Bobby believes that women can ask for directions easier than guys, I grudgingly made my way up to the bus driver. 

"Excuse me," I asked. The bus driver didn't look like he was in the mood for questions. "Does this bus take us to Crissy park? By the Golden Gate Bridge?"

"It will eventually," He laughed. "You might as well stay on for the ride, since you're already on the bus and we will be making a loop around at the end." He didn't even look at me when he said it. I stood in place, feeling defeated.

"Crissy pahhhkk?" A homeless man sitting at the front of the bus blurted out, who had previously been talking to himself. "Don' choo worry, girrrrrl. We'll get choo to Crissaaay park! Just sit back and relaaaax!"

I wasn't amused. And I also didn't want to ask the bus driver how long it would take. So I simply went back to my seat and tried to calm my nerves. What if I miss my race? What if I get there and it's started already, could I still run it? Would that be the worst thing in the world, to miss my race, anyway? I don't feel that great, I'm achy from the long car ride and lack of sleep...

Even Michelle was fidgeting and staring at the little blue dot on her phone. Our fate was in the hands of the bus driver and the number of people who decided they wanted on or off.

After forty-five minutes of anxiety filled stopping and going, we reached our destination. We hurried off the bus and saw the race line nowhere in sight. We did see runners, going in the opposite direction from what we thought was the right way.

As we stood panicking about where to go, a group of women passed us with bibs on and I quickly asked them if they were running the half. They said yes, and that the starting line was about half a mile away.

It was 7:45 AM. We all started running together. I handed off my stuff to Michelle, wanted to cry a little bit, and hurried towards the packet pick up/ race start.

I picked up my bib and t-shirt at 7:55 AM. I stood in the line for the port-a-potty for another grueling four minutes. I made it to the race start just in time to pin my bib on and suck down an energy goo. 

Oh wow, here we go!

Hey, look! It's the Golden Gate Bridge! 

I had mixed emotions during the beginning of the run. Physically, I felt pretty shitty. I had eaten half a box of chocolate chip cookies (Trader Joe's double chocolate chip cookies, I hate and love you) the night before, regretfully, and I literally felt like I was carrying around a twenty pound pack. Seriously, have I learned nothing from my previous experiences with food? My muscles ached. My legs felt like they were pumped with water. My head hurt. Was the long cramped car ride or stuffing myself the culprit? Or lack of sleep? Or everything combined? I told Bobby to go on ahead without me, and I settled back into a slow pace. I figured, hell, if I wasn't going to PR on this race I might as well enjoy it and take lots of pictures! So I did. I took lots and lots of them.

Up and up and up and uppppp.

Am I seriously running right next to that thing? DANG. Talk about great distractions!

Hey, this isn't a trail!...but it's still beautiful.

Oh wow, this is the most beautiful place I've ever ran.

I took this around mile 10. I remember thinking to myself, there is NO WAY the bridge is only three miles away!

Getting closer...

Oh HELL no. Hell. To. The. No. ....Soft sand? Half a MILE of soft sand? At the end of the race?! With my shoes and socks on?! I didn't read that in the course description! It took me a full minute to clean out the sand from my shoes and socks after this!

And then suddenly the trees looked like something out of Jurassic Park.

It's so beautiful, I don't even care it's already two hours into my race and I have another three miles to run!

Oh thank god. I finished. I wasn't DFL. Time? I don't even want to know. Cold Coke? Yes, please. I don't even care how bad it is for me. Give me the corn syrup! Give me more cookies! 

Upon reflection, it's pretty clear why things went the way they did. Even though at times, my body feels like it's a machine, I can't forget that tossing a wrench into my gears (box o' cookies) will wreck havoc. 

So here are my lessons from the San Francisco Half-Marathon:

1) Get sleep the night before your race. If this is impossible, make sure to sleep well the few nights before, too. Sleeping less than four hours a night for three days in a row is NOT a good idea.

2) Don't eat a box of cookies the day before your race. It does not count as carbo-loading. Also, stay the hell away from the oreos during your race. What are you thinking?  It may taste delicious, but it will make you feel awful. 
3) Figure out your driving situation/ travel situation the night before your race. "Winging it" will sometimes cause unwanted panic and anxiety before your race. This is no bueno. Not even a bum chanting, "We'll get choo to Crissaaay paahhhkk!" will make you laugh.
5) Accept the ups and downs of San Francisco. The hills during my race were brutal. But the hills I had to climb wandering around the city for two days after my race were especially brutal. Pay attention to the logistics of your trip, and make sure you're not going to torture yourself with extra physical activity when all you want to do is crawl into a bed. 
6) Don't continue to stuff yourself after your race if you're already feeling awful. Oh my god, do I ever learn anything? When I'm on vacation, I swear, my super duper healthy diet gets tossed out the window along with my sleep patterns and acceptable alcohol limits. Mixing all of these things together made me feel like I was competing in the ultimate endurance test-- eating, drinking, and running my way around San Francisco. Remember your limits. 
7) When in doubt, check the little blue dot. I can't tell you how many times Bobby, Michelle and I got lost on our trip. Each time, we would try our bests to navigate on our little tiny maps. Then, we'd eventually give up, pull out our iPhones and say aloud, "Where are we?" Technology can be your friend, if you let it.

8) "If you get a shitty time on a race, you can always chalk it up to a training run!" This is what my wonderful cousin Lindsay told me after I told her how awful I did during my race. She's right. At the end of the day, I ran 13.1 miles and did my absolute best given how I felt. Miles are still miles, regardless of how fast you ran them.

9) Walking around and staying active in the days after your race is much better than sitting still and letting your body get lazy and uncomfortable. This is actually a counter to one of my previous lessons, but I'm going to say it anyway. I really think that forcing my muscles to stay stretched out and flexible during the two days after my race actually helped a lot with my recovery. It's been about five days now and I feel solid. Keep pushing forward, it'll work out better in the end that way. 

10) Spending a weekend with two of your best friends makes everything better. I feel incredibly blessed to have such an awesome couple as two of my greatest friends. It was Michelle's birthday on the 18th, so we turned the trip into an all-out, Half-Marathon/ Michelle's birthday weekend. There is never a dull moment with those two. Friendships formed are the things I cherish most about running, and more so, in life.

All in all, it was an incredible experience. I saw some of the most beautiful sights I'd ever seen before during a race. At times I felt like the terrain was more like an obstacle course than a trail run. But that's okay. Being flexible and learning to adapt to what's handed to you is the most important tool you can give yourself. I made new friends, ate new foods, and saw new sights. 

On the way home, I finished Eat & Run, and felt Scott Jurek's ongoing mantra throughout the book to be particularly relevant to my experience: "Sometimes you just do things."

And sometimes, when you're lucky, you'll do them well :)

Five Signs That You’re in a Committed Relationship...with Running

Some people have boyfriends. Some people have girlfriends. Some people are married. I, on the other hand, am in a committed relationship with....Running.

Here are five signs that you’re also in a committed relationship with running:

1) You turn to Running when you’re upset. You turn to it when you’re happy, too. It always gives you back in equal amounts what you put into it. It’s the one thing at the end of the day that you know will never let you down. You can go to it when you want to escape the chaos of your life, your overwhelming workload, and the problems that plague your mind. When you’re with Running, nothing else matters. 

 2) Sometimes you honestly just hate Running. You get frustrated when things don’t always go your way (even when you may have been the one to slip up...a missed training here, a bad split there). The busted knees, the wonky IT-bands, the upset stomaches...sometimes you find yourself asking, Why am I in a relationship with Running, anyway? Sometimes you get so upset with Running that you have fantasies of having an affair with Swimming. Even Cycling seems appealing at times. Some people try to have it all, and end up in a threesome. (I just don’t get it. I’m a one-sport kinda girl).

 3) If you’re not gentle with Running, you will get hurt. That being said, if it’s always easy, you’re not doing it right. When you’re in a committed relationship with Running, you push through the difficult times. Working through the negative moments is the key to successful relationship-- you can’t abandon it when things get difficult. You also can’t push it beyond it’s means. Learning to balance your relationship with Running is the biggest challenge you will face.

4) You know you’re in a committed relationship with Running when you become literally obsessed with it. You forget that you have a life outside of Running. Running will take away time that you’d usually be spending with your friends. You’ll become more social with other people who are also in committed relationships with Running (although, your Running is the very best, of course). You’re non-committed friends will try to persuade you to not be with Running, but you’ll shoo them away and say, You just don’t understand... 

5) You may fear burning out with Running. You may fear that this might be the too fast, too soon sort of deal, and once you get what you want from it you’ll become bored and leave it high and dry. Remind yourself that you’re in it for the long run. Be patient with it, and it will be patient with you. These sort of relationships take time to develop. You don’t want the hot and heavy or the slow and boring. If you want to be in it for the long haul, give it space when you need to and give it love when it asks. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So I Finished My First Half-Marathon...Now What?

It's almost been two weeks since I finished my first Half-Marathon. I got a really cool picture from my race, too. I almost feel like an official runner now. (Thanks, Michelle).

The week after was weird. I forced myself to not run for three days in a row (I caved on the last day and ended up going on a long walk). It was in those three days that I realized the importance of daily exercise for my own well-being, and how much I missed it. And how sluggish not running for three days in a row made me feel on that fourth day when I ran again (I could swear that six months of intense training went right out the window). One thing I did do a lot of though is think about my next goals for running. I completed my first major goal this year-- running 13.1 miles by my 24th birthday. And I did it. So now what?

I do have another half-marathon this upcoming weekend in San Francisco (it came a lot quicker than I expected), called the ZombieRunner San Francisco Half-Marathon . Unfortunately, this race has nothing to do with zombies (THIS ONE does, though). But it will have lots of hippies and hopefully lots of delicious Vegan foods (I'm still not fully admitting to starting a Vegan diet...afraid of jinxing myself). It will be different from the O2O Half because it will be on a trail. I'm interested to see how I do on this race. I most surely won't do it quicker than the nice, flat, downhill one I just did. But I'll probably enjoy the scenery a bit more, and it ends at Golden Gate Bridge park. Sweet!

After this race, however, I will start training for longer distances again. Increasingly my weekly mileage by 10%. Yadda yadda. This time, I'm going to add in those tempo and track workouts which I have conveniently been ignoring. I've gotten pretty far without them, but I figure now that I'm moving towards the bigger digits, all those running plans probably know what they're talking about. Or maybe it was just Scott Jurek mentioning in his new book, Eat and Run, that he gained a considerable amount of speed and endurance by adding in quick runs at the local track. Why do they always have to have a point and back it up? :)

I've obviously been very obsessed with running in the past few months (to the point where I decided I needed to take my ramblings off Facebook and onto a blog). Obsession isn't everything, though. Dedication, yes. Time-management, yes. Serious planning, yes. Eating a clean diet, hell to the yes. Financial support, maybe. Mild insanity, bingo.

So here it is, ladies and gentlemen, my three Big Goals for my next year of running.

Photo credit to Keira Henniger

First, I want the Red Rock Marathon to be my first marathon. It's scheduled for the weekend of November 25th, which is roughly five months from now. One month more than a standard marathon training time. It's not going to be easy. In fact, it's so difficult that even the race director, Luis Escobar, states:

This run is extremely difficult and is best suited for the expert  trail runner or experienced ultra marathon runner.  "

AKA he is speaking directly to people like me. But I don't listen, as usual. 

Cue the internal feelings of terror and self-doubt. Cue the feelings of insanity. Cue the thoughts of, Oh my God, am I really doing this to myself?

Honestly though, this is exactly what I want for my first marathon. This is exactly what I NEED. I love challenge. I love pushing myself to my limits and learning what I'm capable of. I know it won't be easy. What I do know, however, is that I am dedicated. I am willing to put in the mileage, hill work, and heat training to prepare for the race. Go big or go home, right?

Second, and this one is a doozy, but one of my biggest dreams (ever) is to run in the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.I could go into lengthy detail about how I read tons of books about the RarĂ¡muri, obsessed over the beautiful terrain, and wanted to learn more about people who lived simply and happy. I'll just say that this is the top five of my Bucket List. It's kind of a big deal. And it's also a big deal to lot's of other people, too. Undeniably, it's one of the most coveted, middle-of-nowhere races that is more like a great adventure and life-changer than fifty-mile footrace. It's scheduled for next March, and who knows if I will be physically prepared by then to run a full 50 miles. I've talked to a few people about my worries, and I've received surprisingly a lot of positive words of encouragement and support. I still don't know how realistic my goal of actually getting into the race is. I do know, though, that putting all of my positive energy and thoughts towards it is one of the best ways to make it happen. I don't believe in books like The Secret, but for the sake of everything good in the world, I'm going to pretend it works for this situation. I am going to will it to happen. I'll visualize it. Dream about it. Somehow, I will make this happen. 

This photo is from the first Copper Canyon Ultra, with Scott Jurek and Arnulfo Quimare running side-by-side. Their identical smiles reveal their shared love for running.

One of the most important things someone told me was Carolyn Howard, the women I paced during the last 10 miles of her 100 Miler. I told her the date of the race next year, and asked her if she thought I could be ready for it by then.

"If you have the chance to go, do it," She told me. "You don't know where you're life will be in another year. You don't know if you'll have the same opportunities."

She told me how for the past few years she has been putting her name in the lottery for the Western States 100. "If I got in last year, I wouldn't have been ready, but I would have done it," she said. "Lot's of people do that with the New York City Marathon and for Boston, too. It can take years to get accepted."

I took a mental note to start throwing my name into all of the lotteries for those races. With my luck, though, I'd get selected for each and every one of them on my first go. Then I'd really be up a tree.

Lastly, my third Big Goal for the next year is running the Born To Run Ultramarathon 50K. I already signed up for this one. About eleven months before the race, to be exact. I had such an incredible experience this last May, I couldn't hesitate to sign up for next year's.

Photo credit to the talented Larry Gassen

What I am incredible bitter and not happy about, however, is the fact my graduation for my Master's degree is on Friday the 17th of May. Any normal person would probably just shrug, and say, Oh well, guess I'm not going. But I'm stubborn. And I am going.The race is scheduled for Saturday, May 18th at 6:00 AM. This past May, I drove up to Los Olivos around 2:00PM to begin the festivities. Given my schedule for this upcoming year, I am going to be driving directly from my graduation to the ranch. My plan is to have some of my friends run the race this time, and set up my tent for me. Where there is a will, there is a way! Maybe I'll even run in my cap and gown, for shits and giggles ;-)

I have a few other races I plan on running sprinkled in between those major ones (an actual Zombie run, "The Color Run", and a cool 30K trail run, to name a few).

This is going to be an exciting year :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What Happens When You Plan Your First Half-Marathon On Your Birthday

Yesterday I finished my first Half-Marathon. I hadn't originally planned on running my first half on the day of my birthday. It wasn't until I noticed on that Compete Green was planning the Ojai to Ocean Marathon and Half-Marathon in my hometown. After looking at a map of the course, I was even more intrigued. For the half, it started off in Ojai and weaved its way down the bike path, to Ventura and crossed through the promenade. I'd been running the promenade a few times a week for the past few months. The course was all downhill, smooth, and considered one of the best Boston-qualifiers out there. ....Not that I am anywhere near qualifying right now, but more speaking to how easy it is. AKA...perfect for my first half. Also intriguing? It was scheduled for the day of my twenty-fourth birthday. Beam me up, Scotty!

The weeks and days leading up to my race made me feel like I had developed OCD primarily for running. I made sure to stay on my running schedule obsessively, took my rest days when I needed them, backed off a little when I felt like I was over-training, and ate a clean diet to support my body through all the madness. I'd heard horror stories from my fellow runners about their first half-marathons-- pulled muscles, destroyed knees, and injuries that left them cross-training for months. Two of my best friends, Michelle and Bobby, ran their first marathon in Big Sur two months ago. At the beginning of the year, the three of us signed up for the Ojai to Ocean half together. Only Bobby was feeling good enough to be able to run with me, Michelle was still battling a stubborn knee injury (but she still drove us and hid in the bushes taking pictures! What a champ!). So...needless to say, my fear of injury and not being able to run for a while was at the top of my list. Did I think I could run the distance? Of course. Did I know how my body would handle it after? No idea.

I had all the important things set out the night before the race :)

Nobody ever really knows how their body will react during a run until they actually start. It's just one of those things. Either your body will feel great, or it wont. I ran the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run two months ago and felt like complete shit the morning of the race. My stomach hurt the entire run, and I ended up finishing a 5K in around 48 minutes. Granted, there were twelve lame obstacles, a massive hill to climb, and two mud pits (one of which earned me the glorious picture I use for the header of this blog), I was still more than horrified by how long it took me to just run three-point-freaking-one miles. It was an off day. And I had to remind myself after that it's part of the journey to have your ups and downs.

I was relieved that my lack of sleep didn't make me feel miserable for this race. Planning my first half-marathon on my birthday was an awesome idea, although, I didn't anticipate the number of middle of the night birthday texts I'd receive. There was an hour-long span around 12:30 AM that I received around 5 texts from different people. It was a bittersweet feeling, fighting the feelings of frustration because I wanted to sleep and excitement about my sudden surge of love from my friends. Because my cell phone is also my alarm clock, I couldn't exactly turn it off to stop it from buzzing all night. I was also too sleepy to realize that putting it on silent would still allow the alarm to ring. I also set a million alarms with various levels of threat to entice me to wake up :)

The alarms I set...just in case I missed the first one. Proud to say I got up on the first one!

I have a serious love/hate relationship with my best friends.

Right as I finally seemed to fall asleep, my alarm went off for reals (4:05 AM...ugh) and I went right into auto-pilot. Bobby showed up at my doorstep first, sleepy-eyed and ready for a cup of coffee. Michelle showed up a few minutes later, with a Trader Joe's canvas bag (because she knows I have an obsession with TJ's bags) filled with my favorite snacks (Chili Covered Mangoes and Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans) and a gift wrapped in owl wrapping paper (I was in love with it before I even knew what it was). She had bought me a race medal/ race bib holder. Best running gift ever!

Now I get to hang my cool race swag, instead of pinning it to my wall with thumb-tacks! 

"Say cheese!"

I was delighted to see my Grandparent's had set out a little birthday cake for me. Cake counts as appropriate pre-race fuel, right? :)

We drove to the race start, which was at a different location than the marathon start, and finish line. Two days before, I had worked packet pick-up and was overwhelmed by the amount of people asking about the race logistics. "Is there parking at the race start?" "What if I'm not signed up for a shuttle?" "Can I switch my 4:00AM shuttle time to a later time?" "Where is Foster Park?""Where exactly is the start for the half?" ...needless to say, I had answers to none of those questions and figured it would probably be good if I figured it out for myself, too. The start for the half ended up being at Foster Park (in Ojai), and was a little nervous when we saw no other runners nearby. We drove around a little, and finally saw a bunch of cars parked under the freeway underpass and some shuttles going towards what seemed to be the right direction. We started following a group of runners with bibs on walking down the bike path. Some other runners started following behind us, and we got nervous after a while when we didn't see the starting line anywhere. It became one of those moments where we had to establish what was going on. I stopped and turned to the group of women behind us. "We are following the people in front of us, tell me you aren't doing the same thing with us and know where you're going." I horrified the entire group of women, who admitted they were just following us and had no idea where the start was. I saw a couple panic and pull out their phones. Shit, fuck hell. If I was to blame for an entire herd of runners missing their race, I'd never forgive myself.  Thank god we came upon the start within a few more minutes, because I was ready to run the opposite direction in fear of leading an entire group of people the wrong way. 

Even though it was misty outside, it was surprisingly muggy. This made me mad because I had planned on wearing my long-sleeve, and if I had known I'd be wearing just a tank top, I'd have worn my newly sewn Caballo Blanco memorial t-shirt. Oh well, I'll save it for my next half (which is better because it's a trail run anyway).

Bobby: "I wonder where the port-a-potties are."

Before I had a chance to get cold or antsy, the race started. Bobby and I hung towards the back, letting the runners spread out before we started working our way up. There were a thousand runners in the half, and I quickly abandoned my goal of placing in my age division. On the other hand, Bobby and I spent the majority of the run weaving through the crowds of runners. Part of me felt like they had just gone out too fast, and the other part of me felt like I had just trained a little better than them. ;-)

Abandoned oil-refinery. Quite the view!

Bobby ran the entire race barefoot. I repeat, Bobby ran the entire race barefoot. Not minimalist. Not in sandals. Bare feet to the pavement, yo. He warned me before we started that "it might start to get a little annoying" and at first I thought he meant the running barefoot part. Then he added, "people always say things. They can't help it." It was then I realized that he meant the people making comments about his  choice of foregoing shoes.

Soon enough, the comments started rolling in. "Hey! Barefoot man!" "Did you forget your shoes at home?" "Oh my god, he is barefoot, look!" My favorite, by far, was "If God wanted us to be barefoot, he wouldn't have invented Nike's!" ....there were so many come-back's I thought of to that comment, I couldn't even decide which to throw back before the guy was too far away to hear me.

I felt solid for the first eight miles of the race. Around mile 9 my hips started to feel a little tight. I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, only that I had lost my can and was nearing the squeaky, painful, oh my god, oil me please! moment. At different moments my knee started to burn, and the arches of my feet started to feel a strange sort of pinching sensation. I reminded myself that this was only feedback information from my body and as long as something wasn't totally unbearable, I could keep going. At mile 12, I started feeling anxious for the end to near. My pace up until this point had been extremely consistent (9:54 per mile) and although I gave up the sub-2 hour goal (which was in all honesty a little extreme for where I was at), I was still running much faster than anticipated.

At one point, Bobby turned to me and said, "Have you been running a lot?"
I didn't know exactly how to respond. "Yeah, what makes you say that?"
"Your pace," He said, jumping over a rocky-patch of asphalt. "You're way faster and more consistent than you were the last time I ran with you."
I thought about it, and the last time I ran with him and Michelle was over two months ago. Both of them had been healing since their marathon, so I'd been training the majority of the time by myself or with other people.

It was at that moment I realized how much improvement I had made in the last six months, and especially in the last two. I went from only being able to run a few miles (roughly) in a row, to a solid 13.1 miles with a faster pace than I had ran in my first 5K of the year. I remembered complaining to them about a four-miler we did once. I remembered needing to stop during another 5 miler, and my knee hurting for a few days after. The last few months I've noticed myself get more and more personally involved in running. It wasn't just something my two best friends dragged me out of bed every morning for. It became something that I dragged myself out of bed every morning for.

I didn't stop once during my race. I didn't expect that. I promised myself, that if I wanted to walk, I'd walk. I wasn't about to risk injury for the hopes of getting a certain time. But I felt good. Even when Bobby gave me the "get out of jail free" card (i.e. "We can walk if you get tired"), I still kept running. I figured, there are so many people who don't have the opportunity to run. I have trained for this. I'm not walking. 

I had a long list of reasons why I wouldn't let myself walk. When my body started hurting pretty bad the last mile, I thought about Micah True. I never had the chance to meet him in person, but I met many of the people who loved him the most. The impact this man had on the running community is immense. One of the most important things I've ever learned in running came from him: Just enjoy yourself, enjoy the scenery, and run happy.

So I did. I turned my attention away from my hurting body, to the ocean waves crashing to my left. I watched the crowds of people at the finish line drawing me in closer. I listened to the sounds of people cheering, cow-bells ringing, and waves crashing against the shore. I felt the biggest smile stretch across my face, mainly because I was so ecstatic to have made it to the end in one piece (and that I would be able to stop soon). It was almost over.

"You ready to sprint yet?" Bobby asked me.
I laughed pretty hard, mainly because I couldn't imagine running any faster than I already was. But somehow, I managed to pick it up, just a little bit.

We crossed the finish line at around 2:09:10. My phone clocked me in at 2:10:32 for a distance of 13.17 miles. Since I stopped it a little after I passed the finish line and kept walking, I'm going to just say I did it in under 2:09 :). I was more than happy with the results. And even happier with the race medal.

Surprise surprise! The race medal doubles as a beer opener! Useful!

Leave it to Compete Green to create a useful running medal! I approve! 

My awesome friend with the same name, Christa (with and H!) met me on my walk back to the car with a bunch of balloons and one of the biggest smiles in the world. She pinned the balloons to my shirt and I walked like a two-year-old, overjoyed :) I went straight home after to shower (didn't even hang around to gather free goodies from the expo like I usually do). When I got into my bathroom and started to take out my pony tale, I was horrified to see that a giant dread-lock had formed in my hair during my run. I couldn't even get my hair-tie out.

It took me about twenty minutes in the shower and a bottle of conditioner to get all the knots out.

All showered and ready for my birthday brunch! More shocking? Me in a dress. Happens about once a year.

I promised myself if I finished my race, I'd earn myself an entire day of gluttony. So what did that entail? Chinese food and Champagne, of course! Had to get my fill before my 30-Day Vegan Challenge (future blog post coming soon, ha!). 

The first of many plates of food. Did someone say buffet?

This is an awesome hat my artist friend Meaghan made for me. I thought it was amazing.

....and then I turned it over. EVEN MORE AMAZING. 

I had to model the hat for the camera. And my dear friend Christa had to photo-bomb me :)

My amazing friend Alexis made me a cake! She also ran in the half, side-by-side with another one of her first-time half-marathon runner friend. 

Alexis and I :) All smiles after our half-marathon!

Music happens when Kevin, Roy and I are in the same place at the same time. It's just a fact.

I forgot how to play my Uke. So I pretended. I wonder if my friend Caitlin noticed.

I'm a total hippie. So what? :)

There was only one last thing I wanted to make my day perfect. I'll give you one second to take a guess what it was.

A BURGER! We all pooled into the car and got In & Out. We drove to the Cross (which is a look-out point in Ventura) and sat on the wall while we ate. We stared at the view. It was amazing.

Does it get any better than this? Really? (This is also a great view of the course I ran, which further reminded me how far I had traveled on my own two feet that day). 

It was around this time that I started to feel reaallllyyy tired. I reminded myself that I had less than 2 hours of sleep total, ran 13.1 miles, and gorged myself on chinese food and champagne all day. Then I topped it off with birthday cake and a burger. Needless to say, my body was starting to stage a revolt. I was thankful my friends weren't trying to persuade me into going out downtown to drink more. There are some positives about having a birthday on a Sunday. Everyone has work the next morning. So I got the pleasure of climbing into bed at 8:45 PM the night of my twenty-fourth birthday. No injuries. No aches and pains. Endlessly happy. It was the perfect birthday :)