Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The SF Marathon- race report

photo credit Tony Medina

Heading into Sunday's Wipro San Francisco Marathon, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to win. I have run this race twice before and neither time was the my primary objective. The first time I ran it, I paced my sister the whole way through as it was her first marathon. Last year, Nathan and I ran it together and I used it as a training run leading up to WC100k.

Despite really wanting to win, I also was not sure I could. After Comrades, I took the month of June easy and once I started back training in July, I was doing more base building and moderate mileage than peak training. I did one track workout and one tempo workout before SF Marathon, with the later happening Tuesday before the race (you know, since it is such a great idea to run sub 5 min pace before you run a marathon). Needlesstosay, I had no real basis for judging what kind of shape I was in. I felt like I was running well, but had no training indicators to buoy my fitness.

So I did what anyone would do in my postion: go for broke and see what happens.

 photo credit SFM

Before the race, I familiarized myself with some of the competition and looked at marathon PR's across the board to carefully consider the capabilities and speed of the field. Knowing SF is a much harder course than most, I knew the times would be slower but wanted to be mentally prepared if I was going to have to go out on PR pace practically. When I got to the starting line, I knew I had the fastest PR in the group by nearly 11 minutes. While I didn't necessarily think I was in PR shape, I knew that I would likely be looked to dictate the pace and lead the field.

photo credit SFM

Anna Bretan (sister of my fellow ninja Jonathan Bretan) is a two time winner of the Oakland marathon. She is tough on a tough course. Before the race she told me that Jonathan told her to keep an eye on me and stay with me. Standing on the start line, I decided on my strategy. If the field was going to look to me to dictate pace, then I was going to take the race out hard and splinter the field early, after which I could settle into the pace (2:45) that I thought it would take to win.

The gun went off and I just went for it. As I started running, I considered if it was a smart strategy. My legs didn't feel warmed up and I knew that taking the race out on 2:37 pace was risky for me as well. I could blow up hard later. I didn't want to be scared though. Part of learning to race marathons for me has been learning how to get in the pain cave and relish it. To hurt and keep pushing. I figured that this race was a perfect opportunity to practice racing and hone my skill.
photo credit SFM

I clicked along at around 6 minute pace and charged towards the Golden Gate bridge with a little pack of ladies and guys tucked in behind me. The first 6 miles only have one real kicker of a hill, so it felt good to get the legs turning over. I wasn't sure how many ladies were with me as we headed up the steep climb to the bridge. I was pretty sure that at least a handful had backed off from my kamikaze of a start. I felt really good though and knew that I was going to have a solid day. I just felt strong. Not necessarily as fast as I've felt, but just felt able to maintain the pace all day long.

photo credit SFM

I run back and forth and back and forth across the bridge for training all the time. I know its curve, I know how hard to push when. By the time I was headed back to the SF side, I knew that my strategy had paid off. A quick glance over my shoulder registered that I was gapping the field and pulling away. I fell in with a group of guys and worked my way towards the park. I rolled with the hills, not throttling back too much on the few challenging up and hit the park feeling good. I was excited to feel so good heading into the park because I knew that the second half was faster and if I was feeling good I might be able to even or negative split. I passed through the halfway point just around 1:22. 

To the beach and back is one of my bread and butter runs (speaking of Bread and Butter, have you checked out our Kickstarter campaign yet?!?!), so I locked in and got my legs moving fast as the course slopped downhill. I was running with a guy named Gavin who was doing his first marathon. It was nice to have the company and we caught another duo shortly thereafter, whom I helped coach through a bad patch, reassuring them their race wasn't falling apart because they felt crap. That instead they just each needed to take a gel. I spent a few miles with them and then decided to push on ahead. I got onto the Stow Lake loop that is next to the 1st half finish and was excited to see Nathan, Georgia and Larissa (with the whole Strava crew).

 photo credit Tony Medina
I was on my own then. Just pushing along, managing my time and my energy. I apparently had not been running tangents well because my mileage vs. the markers was off, so I just resolved to stay locked in on my 6:11min/mile pace and focus on that. Loping down the Haight the cheers for me changed from "yeah 1st woman" (in the park) to suddenly "you are second woman!". Wait, what? I was confused and told the leader bicycle pacer that people were saying I was second. There are two places on the course where it is possible to get confused and cut off significant mileage. I figured that someone had turned left going into the park and skipped the bottom section of the park (which friends later confirmed). The bike pacer took off after the woman and I decided to turn her into a rabbit instead of being frustrated by the situation. I knew I was winning, but I also wanted my moment. If I am going to win, I want to come tearing into the finish line and break the tape. 

I pushed the pace on a few downhills into the mission and turning on to 16th spotted the lost lady. Her pace was significantly slower and I ate up ground and passed her quickly. With less than 5 miles to the finish line, I was starting to smell the barn. I wasn't sure what my gap was on the field, but I knew that if anyone was going to catch me, I was going to make them earn it. I just locked in and went. 

 photo credit Tony Medina

I never felt bad. I felt like a machine. I did work through the Dogpatch and crossed the bridge to ATT park flying. I looked at my watch and saw that even with the extra .25 miles I had run that I was going to be able to run sub 2:45. I pushed myself towards the finish line. Hitting the mile 26 sign I looked at my watch (marathon split 2:42:44) and pressed forward. The finish line announcer was saying that they had word that I was at ATT park a few minutes out, but I was flying down the finishing straight. The announcer caught sight of me and the crowd started going wild. I soaked it in. This is what I came for, this is what I had earned. I came to represent for my home and I protected my home turf.

photo credit Tony Medina

Victory. I have to say that this is one of the more satisfying wins I've had. It wasn't just about the fact that I won. It was that I ran the race I wanted to, I took risks, I pushed myself. I came to win: mission accomplished.
Photo from SF Gate

Thanks to The San Francisco Marathon for inviting me as an elite (and putting me in bib #2 for motivation!), North Face and all of my other sponsors!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

M.H. Bread and Butter

I am very passionate about running. But I am also passionate about food. Nathan and I are opening up a small cafe in San Anselmo, California (Marin County). We've launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to make our dream a reality. Please check out the video and consider contributing. There are some really cool incentives involved including a trail run on Mt. Tam with us!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


After Comrades I had fully resolved to not train. I had been training and racing so hard for so long that I  was ready for a break. I decided that I would take the rest of June to not train specifically, to enjoy my life (and my birthday) and get rejuvenated. I have run when I felt like it, listened when my body asked for extra long naps and slept in on a Sunday morning.

I haven't taken any real break like this in a while. From the time I started to focus on qualifying for the Olympic Trials in late 2010, I have been in near constant pursuit of the next peak of fitness. And although I haven't burnt out or overtrained in that period of time, I still think, in the long term, burning, burning, burning is not a sustainable strategy. I just want to WANT to run for as long as I am able, and sometimes feeding that want means doing less of it or backing off.

I gave myself the month and I have enjoyed it. I have had accidental double days and plenty of zero days too.  

I was not completely satisfied with my race at Comrades. I know my fitness was much better than the day I had and part of me initially after the race wanted to, once again, leverage my fitness for another race. I wanted to prove how fit I was. But I didn't allow myself to pursue another race. I was very resolute before Comrades that I wouldn't simply rush on to the next race and I stuck to it. I am glad I did. There is no race or run or victory or time that can undo my Comrades race. Instead of trying to fill the unsatisfied feeling with something else, I simply let it be. I see that that dissatisfaction is fuel for the fire to come back even stronger and faster. It keeps you hungry. It keeps you pushing your limits. Now that I am starting to train again, I am motivated to reach for new heights.

Always in stride with the Baker

This past weekend I decided that I would kick off my training as any zaney ultrarunner would do: by running a 50k. The week before Nathan and I had been running on the Flume Trail on my birthday and he said it would be fun to run a 50k together. I thought it would be as well and suggested the Inside Trail Race's Marin Ultra Challenge. I am pretty sure when he suggested it, he didn't mean the following weekend, but I had been pondering the race for quite some time and made a strong pitch.

Heading up Old Springs, mile 30
Photo by Gary Wang

The race itself was low-key and fun. Nathan and I ran with fellow ninja and good friend Peter the whole time and we made quick work of the 33 mile race with nearly 7000 feet of ascent. Going in I thought I would just cruise, but between the three of us, we managed to push the pace for such a stout course. I don't actually think I've ever pushed that hard in a trail race before. It was really fun to run together and play off one another, I would blame Nathan "the Hammer" or Peter "The half-stepper" for the pace but I know I am equally responsible (going up Heather Cut off apparently I got the nickname Devon "Two Switchbacks ahead"). We finished what we started together, even working our way up in to co-4th place (I was first lady from the start) after hammering down Redwood Creek trail in low 7's. Good friends, good fun, good trails, great race.

 Photo by Tanford Tahoe
  Photo by Tanford Tahoe

All in all, I am very thankful I took a little break from the constant focus and training. I am ready to train, excited to race again and ready to explore my own limits.

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