But Where Do You Get Your Protein? A Vegan Runner Answers

I don’t work at a juice bar.

I am rarely in down-dog pose.

My name doesn’t include an astral object.

And I most definitely don’t look pale and scrawny.

These are just a few of the traditional images people have about vegans. Nope. This vegan looks like this.

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The fact that I’m also a first degree black belt in taekwondo, have run several half marathons and marathons, and just recently qualified for the Boston Marathon further breaks these stereotypes.

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More and more vegans are coming in all shapes and sizes, including a burgeoning group of vegan athletes. Super ultra-athlete Rich Roll, whose book “Finding Ultra” was a huge inspiration, made a loud statement for moving to a plant-based diet after being named one of the 25 fittest guys in the world in 2009 by Men’s Fitness magazine. But veganism isn’t just for endurance athletes. Uber muscular vegans, like former NFL defensive lineman David Carter and bodybuilder Torre Washington are further smashing the weak vegan stereotype. While the number of vegan athletes is growing, due to the misconceptions mentioned above, I found myself wary about committing to a plant-based diet, and my journey to veganism has for sure been a circuitous one.

Since the early ‘90s, I have had meatless tendencies, and as the years progressed, I became more knowledgeable about vegetarianism (abstaining from animal flesh) and veganism (abstaining from all animal products, including eggs and dairy).  In addition to the health advantages of a vegan diet, I learned about the environmental benefits and, of course, the tragedy of factory farming. Since 2007, I have primarily been on a vegan diet, meaning I cheated with non-vegan options for dessert and pizza, as well when traveling. Because Paris, OK? However, while 80% vegan or “veganish” was a strong statement for veganism, it wasn’t until last March that I made the full commitment, and I haven’t looked back.

In my nine-year journey to transitioning from an 80% vegan athlete to finally a 100% vegan athlete last March, I had a meandering route. The reasons for my stop-start dance with veganism were based on concerns that perhaps some athletes contemplating a switch to a plant-based diet might be struggling with. Hopefully my experience can help. Here were some discomforts I had to work my way through:

  1. But where will I get my protein? At first, my diet relied on fake meats because I was fearful that I would die from lack of protein. Now I rarely eat faux chicken or the like. Turns out beans, peas, kale, spinach, etc. and ad infinitum all contain protein. Also, you don’t need as much protein as you’ve been told you need.
  2. Not feeling full. This was weird. Being raised a meat-and-potatoes girl, it was uncomfortable not feeling stuffed after a meal. You know what? You learn to love this lightness. In fact, that is primarily why I found myself gravitating towards a vegan diet as a marathoner; I hated feeling weighed down by meat in my body.
  3. Not getting enough iron. My previous bloodwork has intermittently indicated that I’m borderline anemic, meaning that I have to be diligent with getting enough iron. People traditionally associate iron with meat, but I use one iron supplement and eat a lot of beets. This seems to take care of that.

In exchange for giving up animal protein, I have increased energy and decreased recovery time. Decreased recovery time means I can train more, which means more athletic gains and faster race times. In fact, after becoming 100% vegan in March 2016, I PRd both of my half marathons, taking a full 6:30 plus off my former PR from 2012. I then smashed my marathon time by 33 minutes and qualified for the Boston Marathon after four years of trying. Now, in full disclosure, I also added a trainer and speedwork to my training last year which was instrumental; however, all of the workouts were fueled by plants. At the very least, being vegan was not a detriment to the demands my trainer put on my body. However, more accurately, being plant-based allowed me to take on and thrive under the increased pressure and elevated workouts he put me through.

 

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I like specifics, so this is what a typical eating day looks like for me:

Breakfast: Beet, banana, blueberry, coconut water, and almond milk smoothie.

Lunch: Salad with kale, red chard, arugula, spinach, mixed greens, beets, edamame, carrots, avocado, tofu, and dressing with omega 3s.

Dinner: Brown rice, tofu or mushrooms, two types of veggies, and some fat to fill me up.

Snack: Peanut butter balls made with oatmeal and protein powder.

I never worry about my protein intake. And, when someone inevitably poses the question that is the title of this post, here is an answer that I heard another vegan athlete say. Actually, it’s a question in response to their question: “Well, where do you get your protein?” See, cows and chickens don’t eat animal protein either. So if plants and seeds are a good enough protein source for the protein that you’re eating, then…

A new breed of vegan is emerging that is strong and performs at a high level athletically. If veganism is something that’s been rolling around in your mind as something you’d like to try, then I strongly encourage you to do so. Have fun with it, be curious, and experiment. The nourishing plant-based food I eat not only gives me energy and strength, it makes my body and soul light, and those cumulative effects shine through. This is what a 49-year old non-protein deficient vegan athlete looks like.

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Finding Something in Nothing

As a masters athlete, it is all about recovery. I eat a vegan diet, take ice baths, bathe in Epsom salts, use compression boots, wear compression socks, stretch, and foam roll so I can keep training at a high level. Anything that can help keep this body going is something I take great interest in, so when two people raved about Just Float, I immediately looked into it. Just Float offers float therapy, meaning for one hour you float on water in complete darkness and silence. Definitely piqued my interest, but the deciding factor was that these referrals came from people who implemented the float therapy for different reasons: one is an aging cross-fitting beast who uses it for physical recovery purposes, and the other is someone with a stressful job and personal life and utilizes it for relaxation and stress management. Since my husband and I have divergent interests, imagine my excitement at finding something that both an astral projector/deep meditator and an athlete would enjoy. The idea sounded intriguing and a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The facility is clean and quiet, but certainly not luxurious, so if you’re looking for a spa experience this is not the place. If anything, there is a space age quality to it, and considering what you are about to do, the vibe is appropriate. After watching a short video on what to expect, you’re brought into your own private room that has a changing area, shower, and tank. It is definitely well set-up.

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Private room is sparse but tidy.

My mindset going into this was one of skepticism. How would I “just float” on water? Also, I thought for sure that having no light or sound would freak me out and keep me tense and awake. But whatever, you can’t beat $40 to try something out. Upon entering the tank, you press two buttons, one turns on the music and the other dims the light; both will fade and turn off in a few minutes, but it is an effective way to acclimate you to the deprivation of both. Just Float also recommends moving around in the tank to get used to the feel of floating. In short, they’ve thought of your concerns beforehand.

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Looks very Star Trekkian.

The experience was indescribable. Husband and I tried to articulate it to each other afterwards but fumbled with adequate words. Surprisingly, I was almost immediately able to relax in the pool and, just like anesthesia, one minute it seemed like I was counting backwards from 10, and the next I was waking up. It was the deepest sleep I’d had in…I don’t know, actually. It was profound.

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Close-up of flotation tank.

The only drawback is you only have 10 minutes to shower the salt off you and change before having to leave your room, so the staff can prepare the space for the next appointment. However, they do have a lounge where you can drink water or tea and just chill for a while (there are also coloring books if you’re so inclined). So there’s definitely time to decompress before you enter into the real world again.

Afterwards I was left with a craving to do it again, and yes, we bought two more sessions. As for the physical benefits, it did not solve the lower back issues I’d been experiencing, but I noticed that my back warmed up quicker on my next two runs. I do know it was an overall deep relaxation for my body, and I slept wonderfully that night. For an athlete, this probably works best as an all-over relaxation technique rather than a spot-specific recovery method.

Whether you’re a person who enjoys deep meditative states, an athlete, or someone having problems with stress, anxiety, or depression, I would highly suggest trying water therapy. There is something for everyone in this state of nothingness.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Listening to podcasts has been an effective way to get through a pool running session. If you’ve never pool run, imagine the lack of scenery and fresh air of treadmill running combined with the absence of a runner’s high, and you get the idea of the unique mental challenge that agua jogging presents. One podcast I’ve enjoyed listening to is “High Performance Mindset” hosted by Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, especially one recent episode in which she interviewed Dr. Mustafa Sarkar about his concept of resilience. Dr. Sarkar has done extensive research in this field and worked with many elite athletes, and it’s his position that resilience is not the ability to bounce back from a setback; rather, it is a proactive — rather than reactive — skill. More specifically, Dr. Sarkar’s work posits that resilience is the ability to use personal qualities to withstand stress and to maintain functioning under pressure, thus, there is no setback to come back from. This definition of resilience resonated strongly with me as tomorrow I finally return to running after being sidelined almost five weeks due to a freak injury.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After reaching my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon last November, Trainer and I had decided to concentrate on running track and shorter distances for the first half of 2017. This was partly for a change of pace, but most importantly, in Trainer’s view, to stay healthy since I wouldn’t be running Boston until 2018. I was mostly on board with this plan, but like a true distance runner addict, I struggled to not run more than the prescribed max of 3-miles per run. I soon found myself defying Trainer’s instructions, and at our Friday morning session on December 30, I finally stated that I would not be running less and that the idea of staying healthy was not a good enough goal since it felt like a participation medal…

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Pre-run. So confident. Little did I know what await me.

Approximately 8 hours later, I found myself face down on Sunset Boulevard with my left knee in agonizing pain. On what was supposed to be a fun 6-mile run, I had tripped on a wire left out on the sidewalk and landed squarely on my left knee cap. However, having fallen before a few times, I dusted myself off and ran four more miles to finish my mileage. Because runner.

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Not so confident anymore.

Although the pain was worse than my other falls, it wasn’t until the following Monday that I felt the need to have it checked out. I went to the ER, and one hour, one X-ray, and one set of crutches later, I hobbled out with the news that the X-ray indicated an avulsion fracture, meaning a fraction of the bone had been torn away from the patella. Yikes. It was at about this time that I would have given anything for that participation medal of good health.

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This diagnosis meant no running or even any cardio involving my legs for six weeks. In my twenty years of running, this was unchartered territory. Through any injury, I was able to at least do spinning or elliptical or the above-mentioned pool running to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and some muscle tone. Now, instead of going full-press into track season and running dreaded 600s, I found myself on crutches with six long weeks stretching ahead. And this is where Dr. Sarkar’s definition of resilience came into play.

One of my strongest character traits is being proactive. This quality manifests itself in my having put in place a solid foundation and structure through which I have navigated not only this and other physical tests, but also general life situations. Naturally, as in this case, I was not pleased with this occurrence. Of course there were moments of fear, doubt, and anger; however, through years of experience, and trial and error, I defaulted to a system that works.

The first building block is a spiritual practice. For almost twenty-five years, I’ve spent almost every morning with some quiet time. I usually spend a half hour in prayer, contemplation, reading, and writing, and this practice gets my head (mostly) straight and sets the intention for the day. It is not a guarantee that I’m not going to have hard times, but like any muscle, working this spiritual muscle provides a solid baseline, so that when difficult times do come down, I am in a better position to handle them. I am certain that the mostly positive mindset I maintained was the result of my faith and the purposeful attention I paid it.

Second, I have good people in place. Listen, as smart as I like to think I am, I only have so much headspace and expertise, so I outsource when necessary. For example, I have an awesome CPA, who advises me on what to do with my investments; OK, full disclosure, he is also my husband. Ha. And, in this case, I was aggressive in seeking the right people for my knee. I went to the best orthopedic doctors in Los Angeles, which meant that I could accept their diagnosis and prescription with full confidence, and thereby not have to waste time getting a second opinion.

Further, I had the right person to get me through the next six weeks. Not only did Trainer have expertise in rehabbing knee injuries, he had already instilled a system of prehab that I knew would hold some of my conditioning and possibly even accelerate my recovery. In emphasizing prehab in our sessions, we had been proactive so that in situations like these, we would not lose too much ground. Trainer and I hardly missed a beat in our training. I didn’t take any days off. When I couldn’t use my legs, he improvised, and I did my upper body work while sitting on an exercise ball. We did more core. Like a lot more core. Too much core. No really, I was over it.

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Too many planks.
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No wheels; no problem.

Ultimately, the MRI results determined that there was no fracture (the floating piece may have been an old injury), and that instead my issue was a strained quad tendon. Although I no longer needed crutches, I still could not resume running until three more weeks, which would bring the total to five. However, just as Dr. Sarkar proposed, resiliency does not have to imply a marked setback. Below are some photos of the type of work I’ve been able to do while injured; except for not being able to run track or road running, I am functioning at a high level despite my knee not being at 100%.

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And tomorrow morning I will run for the first time in five weeks. Trainer says if this active running “hiatus” works, then we’ll do this every year*, further adding to the veracity of Dr. Sarkar’s argument. I mean, can it really be a comeback if a five-week running break is built into the training plan? Regardless, it is comforting to know that despite not having my running legs under me, the learning curve will be much shorter due to the solid foundation and training structure that I had put into place prior to this injury, and now instead of trying to catch up, I can look forward. In fact, my new training journal arrived today to commemorate this new chapter. Here’s to picking up where I left off.

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Hope everyone has a great running week!

*He is just kidding. I hope. There is no way I’m doing this. Just saying.

2016 & 2017: Review and Resolve

What an amazing running year 2016 was! Truly transformational physically and mentally. It seems somewhat trite to condense it to a Best of/Review, but here are the sound bites.

Total Races in 2016:*

1 300m (WTF): Alemany High School (January)

1 5K: Hollywood (April)

3 Half Marathons: Surf City (February); Mountains2Beach (May); Ventura (September).

1 Marathon: Revel Canyon City (November).

PRs: I PRd every half marathon beginning with Surf City (1:55:59; 1:52:28; 1:51:18 ) and my one marathon (3:52:27).

*All race reports are under the Races tab.

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Best Training Run:

A totally routine middle-of-the-week base pace run. But it was one of those days when you feel like you can run forever. I love those runs!

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I also ran down the Seine and ended up at Catedral de Notre Dame in Paris.

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Best Apparel Addition:

These Zensah compression arm warmers! They are perfect for those sorta-but-not-really-cold LA mornings (I’m talking 54 degrees northern peoples).

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Random Running Bonus:

Speaking of those compression arm warmers…I became a brand ambassador for Zensah! So unexpected and random. It’s been a great way to connect with even more people in the running community, as well as try new products. Like said arm warmers!

Best Post-Long-Run/Race “Meal”:

Hugo’s Vegan Cinnamon Rolls with Vegan whip cream

Most Surprising Dietary Occurrence:

You know where this is going, right? I “accidentally” became Vegan! Well, I’ve been on-off 80% Vegan since 2007. Meaning, I ate mostly Vegan but would cheat with desserts and, duh, pizza. There were a few periods in there where I also had some health issues that had me experimenting with eating animals again, but in March of this year, I unexpectedly became full Vegan. It was easy, and I haven’t looked back, even surviving a trip to Paris!

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Most Unexpected Training Benefit:

Um, I look different. It’s only 10-15 pounds, but everything just tightened and popped. See the Before and After September 2015 and September 2016.

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Best Laugh at My Expense:

The time I ran the 300m against my friend, a world-class sprinter, and a group of 15-year old girls. I mean…Anyway, despite the ridiculousness of the situation, I still wanted to do well. I turned towards an awkward Asian girl, who did not want to be there and looked like she only took P.E. because it was a requirement but would much rather be in a science lab (I’m Asian, so I’m allowed to say this, OK?), and my competitive streak kicked in. I thought “I can take her.” The gun went off, and it was then that I experienced the longest minute of my life. So many emotions happened in those 60 seconds. First that exhilarating “Wow, I’m going so fast. I’m flying!” Followed shortly, way too shortly, by “Uh-oh. I can’t hold this. I’m going to die.” And then the rest of the minute, just pumping my arms and trying to hold on. Anyway, Awkward Asian girl caught me with about 50 meters to go (argh!). At least I didn’t puke.

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Calm before the storm.
TRANSITION

Well, enough of this backward-glancing. This is what I am looking forward to in 2017.

What an odd year it will be. My qualifying time for Boston occurred two months after the registration cut-off date for 2017, so I won’t be able to run it until April 2018. I have an entire year to…

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Well, the best-laid plans. I did in fact have several goals ready for this post. And then I went on a routine 6-mile run on December 30, 2016, tripped on a wire, took a hard fall, and fractured my patella. Y’all, 2016 was a real one.

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Anyway, I have been to the ER, my HMO doctor, and tomorrow I finally see an orthopedic specialist, after which I’ll have a better idea of what goals I can realistically make. The first and most important goal I have now is to stay positive, heal from this fracture, and stay healthy. When Trainer mentioned “stay healthy” as my goal for 2017 prior to my fall, I shushed him. My achievement junkie mentality felt that that sounded like a participation medal, but wow, I would for sure take that medal now.

Despite this unexpected, disappointing, and – not gonna lie – kind of scary setback, I am grateful for such a transformative and amazing 2016. While 2017 has not started out according to my plan, I do believe in a bigger plan that I just don’t know yet. And hey, I do like a challenge, so…

Wishing you all a fantastic running year in 2017!

Race Recap: Revel Canyon City Marathon – BQ! BQ! BQ!

This is a super long post. Because BQ.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon has been a secret goal of mine since 2012 when I took my marathon time down from a painful 5:08 in 2010 to a 4:30 over two marathons. Before my 4:30 marathon, I had never thought of Boston as a feasible goal, but when I looked up the qualifying time for my age group and saw it was 3:55, the seed was planted. I told one person – my FMC – and kept that sh-t to myself, because it seemed like a crazy out-of-reach goal. I have been a solid mid-packer my entire running career, and Boston, well, Boston is for those fast runners. Still…that 30 minute PR got me thinking that maybe?

My logic was that if I could take 38 minutes off my marathon time in two marathons, well, then it should only take two – possibly three more – to qualify for Boston, right? Ha. Well, friends, four years later, five marathons completed, and several injuries suffered, it finally happened at the Revel Canyon City Marathon on November 12.

To those of you still chasing that unicorn, the obvious question is “How did you do it?” I’ve read about people who BQ in their first marathon, and I am most definitely not that person. I was not gifted with a distance runner’s body or any natural speed and endurance. Even my friends are shocked by my accomplishment. If you’ve followed this blog, then you know that I have managed to only take five minutes off that 4:30 PR in over three years. In fact, much of that time has been spent injured. My last marathon before Revel Canyon City was the Ventura Marathon, and the only significant results were a new injury (piriformis), and an emotional low. After three years of trying to BQ, or at least come within striking distance of BQing, Boston seemed just as far away as ever, especially with my aging body deterioriating quickly.

At this point, my blog posts became sporadic if not non-existent, and it’s because I finally stepped up my training commitment and surrendered to a professional. Yup, I got a trainer. When I started with Trainer, all I wanted was to stop getting injured; instead I was completely transformed as a runner from the inside-out. Here is the cliff notes version:

  • Switched from a heel strike to a midfoot strike;
  • Ran less mileage than I had in four years;
  • Did track and hill work;
  • Lost 10-15 pounds;
  • Focused on prehab; and
  • Changed my mindset.

But here. Let the photos tell you the story:

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Ventura Marathon 2015 vs. Ventura Half Marathon 2016
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Heel Strike vs. Midfoot Strike
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Prehab: lots of single-leg work

The entire time I trained for Revel, I set my sights on a 4:10 (9:33 pace) marathon, which is 11 minutes short of qualifying for Boston, but still a 15-minute PR, which seemed  sizeable, considering I had only been able to take five minutes off in four years. While my training times showed I should be able to go sub-4:00, I have mad respect for the marathon distance and knew that anything, I mean ANYTHING, can happen over miles 18-26. I also had no idea how my training, especially my limited mileage, would translate to a marathon. But about seven weeks before the marathon, Trainer brought up the startling idea that I could BQ at Revel Canyon City. It had never entered my mind. Based on prior experience, I figured it would take three whacks at a BQ in a best case scenario. However, I started to entertain the idea and figured that if the rest of my training went well, and my two 20-milers looked strong, then I would go for it.

So my Achilles had other ideas, and I ended up not being able to run for two weeks. In an unexpected plot twist, I found myself having to do one of my 20-milers in the pool. Ugh. Yes, 3 hours and 20 minutes running in the pool. Damn if I didn’t feel mentally tough after that!

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I thought sub-4:00 was now off the table, but Trainer still wouldn’t let up. This guy! About three weeks before the marathon, I had an extremely difficult hill workout. I hated it; it felt awful; I was sure it sucked. To my surprise, Trainer said something that indicated I’d done well. He doesn’t usually do that, and for some reason it clicked that maybe I really could pull this BQ thing off. It’s been my experience that sometimes other people can see things in you before you do. Anyway, shortly after that I decided to go for it. Or, in my typical words of courage: Fuck It.

My goals for the race were now the following:
A-BQ (sub 3:59)
B-4:10 (a 15 minute PR)
C-sub-4:25 (a PR)

I didn’t feel my best the week prior to the marathon. I ended up straining my back and had a difficult time completing a 4-mile run just eight days prior to the race. I freakishly tweaked my hip the day before. Yet, ever since that hill workout, I had had the mindset that nothing was going to stop me from believing that I could BQ. No excuses. And on race eve and race morning I found myself strangely peaceful. To be perfectly honest, I just kind of felt like it was going to happen.

There was supposed to be a 3:55 pacer, but the pace groups were sparse and disorganized. I ended up with a 4:00 pacer, and this guy not only had never run this course or paced a race group, he also wasn’t wearing a watch! He was going to go by “feel”. WTF.

The Revel Canyon City course can be broken up into three segments: miles 1-13 are blazing fast and downhill; 14-22 are intermittent hills; and 23-26 are flat. So the pacer, one other guy, and I stayed together for about seven miles, but then our pacer kept getting hassled to slow down. At that point, I had a choice to make: stick with him at a slower pace than my body wanted to go, or bail and go for it. Even though I was going at a ridiculous pace, running miles at 7:42, 7:54, and 7:59, I felt like I wasn’t pushing it at all, so I chose the latter and took off.

I wanted to stay in touch with how my body was feeling, because I knew that miles 14-22 were going to be challenging coming off the downhill. My experience from Mountains2Beach 2014 had been that when I pressed on that significant downhill, my quads had exploded upon hitting flatland, and it had felt like running through sand the rest of the way. So I did something unheard of for me and ran without music for the first half of the marathon, so I could be fully present. Luckily, the scenery is spectacular, and the first thirteen miles went by quickly. (I may have actually PRd my half marathon time.)

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Flying down the mountain!

At around the 14-mile mark, I turned on my music. The lightning fast downhill portion had ended, and the course became flat-tish, which cruelly demanded that my body switch entire muscle groups. Argh. I ran into the only other person from that ragtag pace group, and he, along with several runners, was having a hard go of it. We looked at each other, and I muttered “Shit just got real.” After a little bit, I went on ahead to tackle the rolling hills of the next 5-6 miles.

Looking ahead, I saw runners starting to walk. I had braced myself for this, and from race reports I had concluded that this was no place to be a hero. I ran 90% of the handful of hills, but there were a few steps walked when necessary; however, I just kept it pushing, and never stopped. Since they were rolling hills, I was able to pick the pace back up each time I hit a significant downhill portion. I expected much worse, but the hills never lasted too long, and the downhills were so sweet that it felt quite manageable.

I entered the flat final six miles of the race still not knowing my official time. I know, right? I had a new Garmin, and the fields only told me distance and pace, but I knew I was in solid shape. Unfortunately, it was at this point that my seemingly inevitable calf cramping appeared. Yet and still, I figured that if I just kept close to my pace and managed the cramps by checking my stride length and turnover for the next six miles that I’d have my BQ. No problem, right?

Well, friends, the marathon is no joke. She is a cold mistress and will do with you what she will. Anything – ANYTHING – can happen during 26 miles. Feeling great at mile 18 means nothing. Hashtag respect the marathon. Sure enough shortly before mile 24, my entire body from the waist down seized up, and I basically slowed down to a death shuffle. I finally came to a full stop and stopped my watch (Who does that during a marathon??) to finally check my actual race time. It read 3:23! What? I had two miles to go and 36 minutes to do it in. I basically had to just Not. Stop.

Off I went. It was painful! It blew! It didn’t matter! Around Mile 25, I saw a man cheering on runners…he was wearing his Boston Marathon shirt. It was perfect. Like a sign, right? Seeing that unicorn picked up my spirits, and I smiled at him and said “That’s where I’m going!” He probably pitied this poor delusional woman whose lurching gait indicated that the only thing she’d be qualifying for was the medic tent. Everything went in slow motion, but I just kept telling myself that if I didn’t let up, I would NEVER have to go through this again (except Boston, of course).

There were a few gasps. My body was really over it. But as I cleared the last little uphill and made the turn, I knew the finish was close. The emotions started coming (shoot, they’re coming now as I type this), and even though I didn’t know my exact time, I felt like I had BQd. I had visualized this moment so many times over four years. Those training runs that sucked, those miles when my lungs were burning, those nightmare hill workouts – it had all been for this Moment. I think this photo near the finish captures all the feels.

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Giving credit where credit is due.

After stumbling across the finish line, I needed to confirm I had BQd. I went to the table where they were printing out certificates of each runner’s finishing times, and this is what came out of the printer.

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“This is official, right?” Confirmation. It was only then that I allowed myself to let the fact that I had qualified for the Boston Marathon sink in. I promptly took my photo.

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BQ by 7+ minutes; PR by 33+ minutes

And then, after two failed attempts at making it back to my car and doubling over in cramps, I limped to the medic tent. Ha! My first time ever. But evidence that I had truly left it all out there on that course. The rest of the day was a blur, but I vaguely remember vegan cinnamon rolls and pizza. It was magical.

So now what? Well, stay tuned. Big goals for 2017, including keeping up with the blog!

Finishing Time: 3:52:27
Pace: 8:52/mile
Age Group (45-49): 13/79
Women: 130/492
Overall 393

 

RACE RECAP: Ventura Half Marathon – Shoulda Woulda Coulda

OK, so what’s the time limit on posting race recaps? ‘Cuz I’m just at three months and one day after I ran this race, and while I realize it’s slightly obnoxious, hopefully it’s a forgivable offense. The plan is to post two race recaps this week AND get back to a regular blogging schedule now that I’m in my offseason. So if you’re still hanging in there with this MIA blog, here goes.

The plan was to the run the Ventura FULL marathon. That was the plan anyway.

After my triumphant Mountains2Beach Half Marathon, where I landed a brand new PR at a time that I never dreamed of, I took my usual vacation week to recover. As soon as I returned, I dusted off last year’s training plan for the Ventura Marathon and got busy. I knew I’d only have 12 weeks to build up my mileage to marathon standards, and that I would be cutting it close, but I felt in good enough half marathon shape that the plan would be doable.

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First run after M2B — along the East River in NYC.

Training was going well. I was curious to see how my body would hold up to the added mileage on top of my increased speed and strength training and, as had been the case since starting with Trainer, I was unsure if the speed and strength work would translate into a fast marathon. The first 4½ weeks of training went as planned as I increased my mileage slowly and busted out an 18-mile long run for the first time in nearly a year. Then it happened: I strained my right Achilles. Gah! I had a weekend trip to Vegas planned, so even though I was not thrilled about missing a long run, I figured the timing was right to sit out a few days, get healed up, and still have enough time to get in three 20-mile runs.

My Achilles had other plans. I ended up having to take a little over two weeks off, plus a week to test it out and taper up, which left me only five weeks before the marathon. I am a fan of symmetry and had been looking forward to running the full distance at Ventura as it was exactly this race and one year since my last full marathon, but I decided to downgrade to the half marathon and use it as a training run for the Revel Canyon City Marathon in November instead.

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Bib pick-up. This is a super fun race expo on the beach.

With this decision, I approached Ventura with the mindset of running it at 80% effort. I had to take time off after the Surf City Half Marathon, and if I hadn’t already planned a vacation after the M2B Half Marathon, I probably would have had to take a week off then too. My body just needs to recover after race effort. Since I could not afford to take a week off in the middle of marathon training again, this race was not going to be a full-out effort.

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Kicked it on the beach for a bit.

My goals were as follows:
A-sub-1:50. Why not? That’s what “A” goals are for, right? Shoot for the moon.
B-PR (run sub-1:52:18).
C-sub-1:55 and not get injured.

I also had an unconventional A-minus *goal*, and that was to not stop at so many water stations! My number of water stops has been an ongoing battle — I mean, discussion — between Trainer and I. I have always stopped at EVERY water station during a race, no matter if there were one (like in a 5K) or twenty-six. I stop/walk and drink whether I’m thirsty or not. This, despite the fact that I never drink water at every mile when training and could easily run eight miles during a weekday run without water. Part of it is physiological, the body is expending more energy during a race, but I also knew part of it was a mental crutch. Yikes! The mere thought of skipping water stations terrified me. I felt dehydrated just thinking about it!

I lined up hoping to run with the 1:50 pace group, but there was no pacer for that, and I ended up – gulp – starting out with the 1:45 group. 1:45?!? Just like Mountains2Beach, I planned to hang as long as I could, hopefully until the 4-5 mile mark, and then hold on. I glanced down at my watch a few times during the first few miles and saw some 7:30-7:45 min. mile paces, which seemed about right because the pace felt just out of my reach. I dropped out of the pace group around mile 4 but felt good about cruising into a sub-1:55 finish time.

I found two women who were just slightly ahead of me and running 8:10-8:25 min. miles, which felt fairly comfortable, so I hung with them for the next five miles. This is an extremely flat and boring out-and-back course, so there’s not much to report here other than Ventura is flat AF. Anyway, I bravely and courageously passed by water stations. Oh, yes, friends. I was determined to reach at least one goal at this race, even if I collapsed from dehydration. (Part of me hoped that this would happen just so I could tell Trainer “I told you so”, but no such luck.)

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Nothing but flat highway for miles.

I started fatiguing and cramping as per usual around mile 9-10, only now not only was my body starting to break down, but my Garmin was dying too! It had been going in and out since mile 6, and I had no idea what my actual time was. At this point, I reminded myself of my overall goal for this race, which was to run it at 80%, use it as a training run, and stay injury-free. Thus, I backed off, and did just that.

And here’s where the I Shoulda Woulda Coulda comes in. My finishing time was 1:51:18! Yes, of course I was happy about a new PR by 1 min. 10 sec., but I was also left disappointed – I was thisclose to going under 1:50. If I had known how close I was (why, trusty Garmin, why?!?), I would have kept the pressure on. To top things off, I ended up having to take five days off after the race to recover from a minor bottom-of-foot inflammation anyway, so I just shoulda kept the pace up; I woulda felt better about my race effort; and I coulda gone sub-1:50…argh!

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Hey Finish Line, I see you!

Moral of the story: There are no training races. I don’t race enough to have some “fun” races, and I am competitive enough that if I line up, I want to go hard. So lesson learned…leave the 80% effort for training.

Here are the final race stats. Not bad considering I turned 49 a month before!

Finishing Time: 1:51:18
Pace: 8:29/mile
Age Group (45-49): 9/131  — finally cracked the top 10!
Women: 73/938
Overall 203/1490
Water Stops: 4

So this makes three half marathons and three PRs in 2016. It is astonishing to think that for seven years, I hovered in the 2:14-2:04 range, breaking through only twice to hit sub-2:00 finishes, and now I had run three races in one year at 1:55:59, 1:52:28, and 1:51:18. I mean…

But would these half marathon times translate to the full mary? That question still remained and hung over most of my marathon training cycle. The next recap is scheduled for later this week and will document my first full marathon in over a year. Here is the teaser in hopes you will tune in: It involves the word “Boston.”

Hope you have a great running week!

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I love this medal — so Ventura!

Race Recap: Mountains2Beach Half Marathon

After my triumphant Hollywood 5K in April, I decided to start training for the Ventura Marathon rather than continue half marathon training for Mountains2Beach at the end of May. I had been hanging out at the 25-30 mile per week range for a few months, and this decision meant putting micromanaging my paces on the backburner and focusing on piling on the miles. Building up to the 48-50 miles per week that I’d need to hit to feel ready for Ventura would take some time and waiting until after M2B would be pushing it.  So I dusted off my old marathon training schedule from FMC and proceeded to ramp up the mileage.

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Still did track work but focused on building endurance.

Marathon training and I greeted each other like two people involved in a long distance relationship seeing each other after a long absence. Excited for that first longish midweek run, then reminded of those odd behaviors accompanied with an “oh yeah, I remember how you used to do that” feeling, and culminating in being tired and hungry AF. I went on a rapid bump-up to 34-36-38 miles per week, topping out at a 16-mile long run and myself reunited with that familiar but not unpleasant sensation after a long run when I’d be super tired and yearning for a nap, but my legs would be too jacked up to settle down. They didn’t hurt; just very, very Awake.

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Slimthick.

My long run paces pre-5K and during my hamstring issue were slower than before Surf City, and that messed with my confidence. Post-5K they continued to be slower, but since I was focusing on building endurance rather than speed, it was easier to metabolize. I also helped knowing that my overall fitness was improving. When I first started with Trainer, I could workout with him OR get my run in, but no way I was doing both. Then I built up to getting short runs in after my training session, and by the end of this training cycle I was getting my regular runs in (including an 11-miler!) post workout with him. My increased strength was encouraging, but I just wasn’t sure how fast I was, which didn’t have my confidence at optimal level pre-M2B.

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My pace was a disappointment. Running with my friend was not.

In the couple weeks before M2B, I had two good track workouts and, even better, a long run of 14 miles that came in at 9:05 min. per mile pace, which was about where I was for Surf City. This finally made me think that I could PR and go sub-1:55 at M2B. Just in time!

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Yay! Finally a good pace for my long run!

With my newfound confidence, I set my goals for the race as follows:

C-PR (sub 1:55:59)
B-Sub 1:55
A-1:53

The A-goal seemed a little crazy since my training times didn’t indicate that, but what the heck, that’s what A-goals are for, right? Shoot for the moon. I had really hoped there would be a 1:55 pace group like in Surf City, but M2B is smaller, and it was either a 2:00 or 1:50 pace group. I decided I would go for it and try to hang with the 1:50 group as long as I could and then drop when I had to.

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Race conditions were perfect: overcast and in the upper-60s pretty much throughout the race. I hopped into my pace group, and off we went. The group immediately felt too fast, but I hung in there and didn’t drop back until  about mile 5, which was exactly where I wanted to be. The course is a net downhill, with the only uphill portion in the beginning of the race. After mile 5, it is downhill or flat, and I knew that even if I couldn’t quite hang with the 1:50 group, I could do well on that backend due to the favorable elevation.

One race tactic that Trainer has tried to get me to do that I have been unable (read: unwilling) to do – even on the 5K! — is to stop at less water stations. It is surely a mental thing, because even though I don’t need and don’t drink that much water on my training runs, I stop at ALL the water stations during a race. All.Of.Them. And I walk them. It’s a nice little mental break. However, I did notice that it seemed to take a wee bit of energy to get back up to pace when I stopped and started (Ya think? Can you believe I just figured it out?) , so I was hoping to minimize my stoppage. Well, there are only seven water stations on the M2B half marathon course, so there was an enforced water stoppage restriction, and even though I did find myself getting water at each station, I did run through all of them, minus when I took my gels and ended up walking through them. So a small mini triumph and hopefully the start of better water station habits.

Things were going well from miles 5-11, and I could still sort of see some of the 1:50 group, so I knew that I was in the sub-1:55 mark for sure. My goal was to get to mile 10 at 1:25 so that even if something bad happened (stomach, fatigue, etc.), I could still come in sub-1:55.

Sure enough, “something” happened at about mile 11. I started cramping. WTF?!? After cramping during Surf City and getting a charley horse post-race, I switched to SaltStick caps instead of the electrolyte pills I had been using, and they worked well during the 5K and on my training runs. I had also thought that not walking the water stations would help with this issue. Nope. I got that twinge in my left calf, and thought “Oh hell, no.” It seized up a little, but rather than stop, which is what I did at Surf City, I just ran through it. I mentally pictured my calf relaxing, and after about 100 yards or so, it loosened up. My other calf seized up later in the race, but same process, and again it relaxed. Unfortunately, while I didn’t have to run with a calf cramp, it did slow me down because whenever I tried to accelerate, I’d feel that twinge. Arggghhh. I really wanted to go for it in that last mile, but my calf wouldn’t let me be great!

I know by this time you must be on the edge of your seat wondering how your heroine did. Well, despite not seeing those fast paces during training, and even though my crampy calves conspired against me, I finished with a 1:52:28 half marathon time! Friends, that is insane. I never thought I’d see that number. I’m a steady-eddy 2:00-2:07 half marathoner. It takes an extraordinary effort or luck (like a short course in 2012) to get me in at sub-2:00, and that has only happened twice in over twenty half marathons pre-Trainer. Not only did I PR…not only did I go sub-1:55… I even beat my A goal! Crazy.

As for the race itself, it wasn’t as scenic as the full marathon course. It was pretty blah and seemed like quite a bit of running in the town as opposed to on the bike path with beautiful mountain vistas, as well as along the beach with six miles to go. However, that old beach route did mean running by the finish line and circling back, so after a listening to the complaints, they made a course change this year to avoid that. The crowd support is spotty, but that’s not why you run this race; you run this race because it’s a fast course. The medal was nice; the t-shirt meh; the swag negligible. Again, people don’t run the race for that stuff. So, did the course deliver and meet expectations? A resounding yes.

It was awesome to end the first half of my racing season on a high note. Two half marathons and a 5K resulted in back-to-back half marathon PRs and a 5K third place AG finish. 2016 has started off well, but as you know there is no rest for the weary. After a short vacation in NYC, I am back at it this week training for that full mary in September. Yikes. Not gonna lie, I have some nervousness about my body’s ability to withstand the beatdown it’s about to take, but I’m also curious and excited. Having these solid race results will be good information to draw upon when training gets tough mentally and/or physically in the coming months. And so here I am just two months shy of turning 49 and still setting new PRs, so perhaps it should be said again: Getting injured last September may have been the best thing to happen to my running.

RACE RESULTS:
1:52:28
Pace: 8:35
Age Group (45-49): 11/157
Female: 128/1197
Overall: 306/1811

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