2017 Training Week Two – March 27-April 2: The Reckless Runner

Runners can be reckless at times. We run up in the mountains where all sorts of animals and reptiles are hanging out. Some of us run solo in the dark on lonely streets before most of the population wakes up. And some of us really crazy folk will actually try out new socks on marathon day. What?!?

But is there anything more reckless than the runner who trains for a race WITHOUT A PLAN?!?

This is me. It’s true. When I decided on my May (5K) and June (10K) race schedule, I immediately went to my handy book that I had loosely based my 2016 half marathon and marathon training plans on: Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald. I chose his plans because the tenets he discusses in this book closely mirror the type of training I’ve been doing with Trainer. I figured that if the schedules worked for the longer races, then I’d go ahead and use them for these shorter distances…Then I laughed because I can no longer follow a traditional schedule.

Runners have training plans. That’s like law, right? I myself love Plans – and not just for running. I have a retirement plan, a second career plan, a reading plan, a podcast listening plan, a skin care regimen plan, etc., et al. and ad infinitum. On a micro level, if you saw my calendar, you’d see that almost every time period is blocked for something and are weekly repeats: Date Night, working out, working, “admin”, chores, church, etc., et al. and ad infinitum again. I’m like the German train system, OK?

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And this, ahem, discipline (rigidity?) definitely transferred into my running life. This is what my typical weekly running schedule for the past 7 years pre-2016 has looked like:

Run 5 days – long run day, speed day, tempo run.
Rest 2 days.

But last year I became a different runner in a variety of ways, one of them being that my training plan could best be described as “In Pencil.” Meaning, any training scheduled for that day/week/race cycle could be erased and changed last second. Schedules transformed from in‑ stone to fluid. Now, sometimes I run four days, sometimes six days….depending. Sometimes I do track, other days hills, and of late it’s been a combo session. Also, what is a tempo run? While it’s a staple of almost every training schedule I’ve seen, I’ve done a whole two them in the last year. In addition to track and/or hills, I do some type of speed work at least twice a week, but it’s all indoors on turf, involves cones, and is the same type of work football players – not marathoners — do. Does that even count as running? And how do you count that in miles? *Throws hands up in the air* Add to that, Trainer never tells me ahead of time what we’re doing, except for whether we’re indoor or outdoor, so I have been unable to predict, and thus plan, a schedule. Nuts, right? Listen, I would never prescribe this for anyone, least of all myself, except for that it worked for me. I PRd all three half marathons I ran and BQd my marathon, so I am not messing with this un-formula formula!

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So this is what my “Schedule” looks like for my upcoming 5K and 10K races:

Run 5 days a week. Always one long run (somewhere between 8-10 miles), and usually one outdoor day (track or hills). The other fill-in runs are all over the place. Sometimes they’re all the same distance; other times, I’ll try to mix it up and have mid-distance, short distance, and alternate. A couple times a week, I’ll have a quick-paced short run before my training session that then continues afterwards; done either at a brisk pace or, depending on what happens during the training session, a slow recovery pace. Plus one 30-60 min. aqua jog because my body can’t really deal with running six days a week on cement. And of course one rest day. Complete anarchy. Why not just make Wednesday the start of the week while I’m at it.

So there’s a general plan, but the totals and paces are continuously subject to change.

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And as usual, the lessons I’ve learned in training definitely carry over into my life, as well as vice versa. Today I removed a few time blocks from my calendar. Do I really need to micromanage and fill up every minute of my time, even if it’s to type “FREE TIME” in color-coded blue? Nay, friends, I do not. I cavalierly hit “Delete Event” over and over! Further, I’ve learned that I do not need to know and schedule every detail ahead of time. Also, did you know that the universe does not fall apart if plans are changed last second? Revolutionary, I know. Learning to be more flexible rather than imposing my will based on a rule from who knows where has been an unexpected benefit of my new training regimen that I didn’t even know I needed.

So while I still don’t run alone in the dark, and am wary of running the trails during the summer for fear of seeing a snake, running without an official Training Schedule is something I’m willing to take a chance on. Which really isn’t a risk at all because I’ve seen that for someone as rigid and uptight as me, it works! In fact, a training plan and life framework with a structure that is adaptive is not only sustainable, but ultimately freeing. Just another case of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and reaping the rewards of pushing myself.

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Hope everyone has a great running week!

Training Week
Monday – Rest Day
Tuesday – Run 1.5 base pace miles; training session; run 4.5 recovery miles
Wednesday – Aqua jog 60 minutes
Thursday – Run track and hills
Friday – Run 2 base pace miles; training session; run 4 base pace miles
Saturday – Run 6 recovery miles
Sunday – Long run 8 miles

^^^ What is that even? Ha.

2017 Training Week One – March 20-26: The Miami Vice Solution

For the last five-plus years my race calendar and training schedules have been in place several months (lie: years) in advance. Everything pointed towards The Goal, which was qualifying for Boston (BQ), and my races pretty much followed this schedule:

February – Surf City Half Marathon
April – Hollywood Half Marathon
May – Mountains2Beach Marathon
September – Ventura Marathon
November – Santa Clarita Half Marathon (if I wasn’t too beat up by then)

Basically, two half marathons as a ramp-up to back-to-back marathons, and then a cool-down/end-of-the-year half before I’d go on vacation. Well, this past November, I unexpectedly qualified for Boston. Yes, it was not on the plan. The plan was to run it as an assessment marathon to see where I was, run my two tune-up halfs, and then go for Boston in May at M2B. Qualifying for Boston was AMAZING (yes, all caps!)…and it also through off my entire racing schedule for the first half of 2017. Quality problems, I know.

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After talking to Trainer, I decided to run track for the first half of the year. The plan was to enter some meets and “race” (read: survive) the 800m and 1500m events. Cool. Sounds like a Plan. Well, my BQ marathon happened on November 12th, and while I planned on taking a solid 2-3 week break, I hardly anticipated the 2-3 month break that inevitably occurred. Between an almost three-week European vacation, suffering a freak injury on my way to starting track season, rehabbing from that injury, and then finding out I had missed the open track meets and only the invite-only meets were left, I found myself in the last week of February still without a plan other than to “stay healthy” for Boston. In 2018.

This ambiguous, semi-Letsky Gosky attitude did not sit well with me. I am someone who has a five-year plan ALWAYS. I have goals upon goals and in several different areas, so this was unchartered territory for me…which, it turns out, is exactly where I was supposed to be.

Podcasts are your friend when you do as much aqua jogging as I do (because old). One of the more standout ones was a coach for high performers, who discussed the basic tenets of a workshop he offers on The Champions Blueprint. One of the steps in the blueprint occurs after one achieves a goal, and that is a period of adaptation and pause. Adapting to my new status meant realizing the identity I’d had for five years – “Someone trying to BQ” was different now. I wasn’t prepared for this new self! So that took some getting used to as I realized that my 2017 race calendar would need adjustment. Then came the pause. A time to rest and recover and then choose my next goal. Perhaps this is where I rushed things, as sitting still can be so jarring for me. At any rate, my freak injury somewhat forced The Pause, which apparently was going to happen with my consent or without. Ha.

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As my rehab progressed, and I finally got strong enough to run again, the next goal slowly came into sight…And it wore pastel t-shirts and suits. Yes, I’m talking about that landmark ‘80s television show Miami Vice! In addition to bringing back Don Johnson’s career, it also gave us the bravado of Philip Michael Thomas, who played his partner, Ricardo Tubbs. Thomas coined the acronym “EGOT”: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, in reference to his plans for winning all four.* And that’s when my goal hit me: I would EGOT the All-American standards for all four road distances! I have already hit the USATF All-American standards for both the half marathon and full marathon distances, and this May and June I will try to do the same for the 5K and 10K distances. You guys, I haven’t run a 10K in over five years. The pain of going that fast is making me weep inside as I type.

But I’m totally excited by this goal! I will have to train hard for it, but it should keep me healthy. Yay. So here we go…USATF Masters EGOT plan is under way. If only I could figure out an acronym for these acronyms.

Total Mileage for Week: 25
Long Run: 8 miles
Outdoor Workout: Hill sprints and 200s

*It should be noted that Thomas has not, as of yet, been nominated for any of these awards.

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