A Blessing in Disguise

A Blessing in Disguise

“She turned to the sunlight And shook her-2

I was a few years late to Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running; not sure how it escaped my attention, but I only read it a few months ago. It is now officially my favorite book about running and I am re-reading it.

It isn’t a page-turner, mind you. Sure, you could go through it in a day or two, but you are much more likely to read a few pages at a time, then close the book and think. (Think about you and your own history as a runner; think about what you think about when you run; just think.)

The quote above was one of the first things that made me think. When I was (much) younger, I was so jealous of people who could eat all of the food, especially junk food, and not gain a single pound. You know those people, right? Well, I’ve never been one of them – thank you, slow metabolism. Every piece of cake goes on the thighs, every chocolate bar sticks right to the butt.

I started running because I realized that it helped keep the pounds away: I could eat my candy and it wouldn’t end up on my six-pack. Then slowly, I began to like running. Then I began to love it. Then I realized, I couldn’t live without it!

Then I wanted to run faster and started thinking more about the kind of food I was eating. Then food became fuel, and calories became nutrition.

Then one day, I measured my resting heart rate, and it was 45. (I had to look up online whether that was OK. Turns out, it is quite normal for athletes. The heart is a muscle and when you use it a lot, it becomes stronger, pumping more blood with each beat.)

Then I realized, I am the healthiest I’ve ever been. Healthier than 18-year-old me; healthier than 25-year-old me. Definitely healthier than people my age who lead sedentary lifestyles — no matter if they are skinny, or not so much.

And I owe it to my slow metabolism!

So if you’re one of those people who feel like they have to work hard to maintain a healthy weight, repeat after me:


 
And if you haven’t read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, pick it up. It’s one of those books that make you want to lace up and jump out for a run!

Skirt Sports Giveaway: Are You Ready for the Best Time of the Year to Run?

Skirt Sports Giveaway: Are You Ready for the Best Time of the Year to Run?

Note: those of you who don’t have the patience to read my ramblings, scroll down to the bottom of this post and enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter widget. But you’re missing out on some deep — very deep — thoughts!

Skirt Sports Giveaway - Jette Skirt

Hello September!

Can you believe Summer is almost over? Can you believe I was the fifty-gazillionth person to ask that question?

As some mourn the end of Summer, the kids are back in school and I can think of one group of people who are thrilled at the prospect: parents.

Runners, I mean runners!

Runners training for all kinds of events — or those not training for anything at all — are thinking, Yessssss, finally I walk out the door for my run and can feel the early morning breeze, the soft – not scorching – touch of the sun on my shoulders, the moist dew of the grass covering my ankles as I stretch.

Well, not all of us are not that poetic.

Finally, I get to wear my cute knee-high compression socks!

The best part of September and October for me is that it’s no longer as hot as the pits — even at noon, for those of us runch-ers — but it’s still warm enough to wear cute running skirts. And pair them with knee-high compression socks, if you like.

So what better time than this first day of September to host an awesome giveaway for one of my favorite running skirts ever, the Jette skirt from Skirt Sports?

The Jette is the most versatile skirt I own. I wear it to run, race, hike, watch tennis, shop, drop kid off at school… everywhere. It’s one of the shorter models Skirt Sports makes: the front is 12 inches long and the back, 13 inches. It has an elastic waistband with drawstring (to adjust, if needed) and a small hidden pocket for keys, cash, credit card or ID; the shorties have silicone lining so they don’t ever ride up, and two side pockets to store gels, your phone, or anything you might want to take with you.

I ran the Santa Rosa Marathon in one of my many Jette skirts (the Tantrum print) and had plenty of room for everything I needed to carry on my 26.2-mile journey.

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on


 

Watch this video to get a better look at the Jette:

 

And a couple more photos of yours truly in various Jette skirt prints:

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Impatient to enter the giveaway already? Just one last thing, a bit of fine print:

This giveaway is made possible by Skirt Sports; when you enter the giveaway through the widget below, you agree to the rules of the giveaway. Skirt Sports will collect the emails of all giveaway entrants (but you can later unsubscribe from future email communications). The value of the giveaway is $69 and sales tax, if applicable; the winner will not be required to make any payment. Should the winner choose a print that is currently on sale, they will not receive the difference between the above amount and the actual cost of their product in any form (store credit, coupons, or otherwise). This giveaway ends at 12 a.m. (midnight) Pacific time on September 9, 2015.
 

If you cannot wait until then and want to order your Jette skirt, or any other Skirt Sports product, ASAP, use this 20% off code for your shopping pleasure: SSCCM20.
 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Highs and Lows of Running to BQ: Santa Rosa Marathon Recap

The Highs and Lows of Running to BQ: Santa Rosa Marathon Recap

The morning was young as I left our hotel room to head to the start of the Santa Rosa Marathon.

5:20 a.m. Dark and blurry. Then again, that was probably my contacts. Who doesn’t think to replace a pair of well past their two-week lifespan lenses before their key race of the year?

I had dedicated so much brain power to preparing for the Santa Rosa Marathon, my head didn’t have space for much more. I sacrificed a year of racing for fun, signing up for only five races for the first eight months of 2015. (One quick look at my race calendar will show you how atypical that is.) The races were all carefully selected to test my fitness in the early months of the year, allow me to build endurance, see how my speed is coming along and, finally, give me a long-enough empty block to focus on the marathon.

For nearly three months, I didn’t even ride my bike!

All that, just so I could BQ.

For my age group [the forever 21] a Boston qualifying time is 3:40. But that doesn’t guarantee a race bib. A BQ time allows you to apply for registration — and that happens on a rolling basis. Fastest runners apply first. The process, of course, is only fair. But it also means that 3:40 wouldn’t cut it. For the 2015 race, the cut-off time for qualifiers who actually got in was 1:02 minutes. Ran 3:39:00? Sorry, you’re out.

To have a fairly good chance of making it, I wanted to run 3:37 or faster. But really, my goal was to cross the finish at 3:35, or earlier.

This all might sound fine and dandy, no big deal — until you take into consideration that my fastest marathon time to date had been 4:22… in 2006! I ran the LA Marathon a few years ago hoping to break four hours, but ended up doing even worse than that, 4:25. And last year, I ran the Big Sur International Marathon with my husband, also known as The One Who Bonked at Mile 17. I decided to stick with him and we finished in 4:46; our slowest (but most fun — for me, anyway) marathon to date.

So, you see, my goal to BQ would, in fact, require me to PR by 45 minutes. Or run an hour and 10 minutes faster than my most recent marathon.

(If anyone is curious about this marathon training cycle – I plan to do a detailed numbers breakdown in a separate post.)

I picked the Santa Rosa Marathon for several reasons:

1. It was late enough in 2015 to give me a lot of time to prepare, but still early enough to fall into the 2016 qualifying period.

2. It is a flat, fast course; one of the top 25 races feeding runners into Boston.

3. It is fairly small and fairly local to me. The logistics would be easy.

Namely: a two-hour drive to Santa Rosa the day before the race, stop at DeLoach Vineyards for packet pickup, and stay at the hotel that’s closest to the start (we went with the Hyatt Vineyard Creek, a bit pricey but a 10-minute walk from the start and finish, and right on the course itself).
 

The Expo

Once you’ve run several dozen (ahem, 102) races, you pretty much know what to expect from an expo. This one, though, at the beautiful grounds of the event sponsor, DeLoach Vineyards, was quite different. We parked near the vineyard entrance, for example, and rather than walk the quarter mile to the expo itself, were taken there in a six-seater golf cart driven by a friendly gentleman who made us laugh at least three times during the three-minute ride. And on the way back, a local race participant drove the cart at the astonishing speed of 1 mph (or slower?), as the electric vehicle’s battery died. Yup, we had a good laugh about it.

Packet pickup was a breeze – I have become quite an efficient in-and-out expoer, aiming to spend as little time on my feet as possible, but still check out all the vendors — because you never know what you might find! At this one, though, we couldn’t resist spending some time wandering around the adjacent Theater of Nature, a cute little garden with small patches of all kinds of fruits, vegetables and flowers. [We may or may not have tried a tomato, a peach, a celery stick and a little piece of cauliflower, which was probably against the rules.]

SRM Expo Garden

Other than that, we spent probably 15 minutes picking up my bib, race jacket (in lieu of race t-shirt, great swag!) and bottle of specially-made DeLoach Runner’s Red, and tasting three kinds of wine and some non-alcoholic beer. Success!

Humpty Dumpty DeLoach
 

Race Strategy

I want to share here the plan my coach sent me for this race — if anything, because he ended up being 100% right about everything (as usual), and because this is advice that anyone running a marathon could use.

Nutrition

– Good dinner the night before finishing by 7:00-7:30 pm, maybe have a little more carbohydrate than usual. My pre-race dinner of choice — vegetarian sushi rolls with extra rice — fits this perfectly.
– A small breakfast 1.5-2 hours before the start. In my case, this is coffee, a Honey Stinger Waffle and a few bites of Smooth Caffeinator Picky Bar.
– Take a gel every 50 minutes or so, a total of about 4.5. [I had four.]
– Get consistent sips of water to help your stomach use the calories; aim for at least 20 oz per hour of running.

Pacing

– In the beginning, hold back! The goal race pace (in my case, 8:15 min/ mile, plus-minus 10 seconds) should feel easy, perhaps a bit too easy, for the first 10 miles.
– The second eight miles will feel OK, but will start to get more difficult. Concentrate. Stay on top of fueling/ water intake.
– The last eight miles, build the effort – concentrate on holding on to that pace as best as you can. I quote this verbatim. Notice, he said not “hold the pace,” but “hold on to the pace.” Yup, that would be difficult.
– Be patient as you raise the effort. Don’t go hard at mile 20 and then slow down into the finish.
– Be really aware of fueling, continue taking in calories to schedule — or else things could go south quickly.

With that plan, I stepped into the start/ finish area at Julliard Park and lined up for a porta-potty.

The Race

The starting gun went off at 6 a.m. It was still dark and everyone around me was fidgeting with that pre-race excitement we all know too well: shaking off their hands and arms, stretching IT bands, jumping in place.

I was in Wave 2 and crossed the mats at 2:25. Time to do work!

The first miles felt absolutely effortless. The foot pain that had been nagging me for the last couple of weeks had miraculously disappeared. My legs felt fresh and springy – they wanted to run faster! I forced myself to hold back, as instructed. My pace for the first three miles was in the low 8s, but it felt like I was running in the 9s.

Mile 1: 8:09
Mile 2: 8:09
Mile 3: 8:08

After the first few miles on city streets, we headed out onto the path along the Santa Rosa Creek, where we stayed for nearly four miles. Miles 1 to 10 were all at an imperceptible incline – a total loss of 100 feet or so over 10 miles – which I’m sure contributed to the feelings of ease and strength I (and possibly everyone else around me) was experiencing.

Mile 4: 8:19
Mile 5: 8:09
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:07
Mile 8: 8:10
Mile 9: 8:17
Mile 10: 8:05

Still feeling good at this point, we had run out into the “country,” surrounded by vineyards and enjoyable views. Mile 10 was also where we entered DeLoach Vineyard – the course goes through the vineyard and the barrel room. I looked at my Garmin and, for the first time, did exactly what Coach D had told me not to do: had an “Oh Sh%t” moment.

Oh Sh&t

I don’t really remember what time I had in my watch at that point, but my brain decided that I have been running too slow.

You see, one of the problems with long-distance races, especially those that have lots of turning this way and that, is that almost every runner on the course who is using a GPS watch will see an inconsistency between their watch distance and the mile markers.

In my case, the difference was now about .15 miles. By the end of the race, it would be .26. This is normal. The Santa Rosa Marathon is a certified course – this means that it is exactly 26.2 miles, however that is measured using the most efficient tangent for each turn. Was I running each turn most efficiently? No. You can’t do that when you are running with a crowd. So the distance you run grows imperceptibly with each mile. Almost every half marathon I’ve run has been at least 13.2 miles long. All marathons have been at least 26.4.

The only downside to all this – besides running an extra quarter of a mile (hello! that is a lot after 26.2! ) – is that the paces on my GPS are not to-the-milisecond accurate. I am running a little bit slower than the pace my GPS watch is giving me.

Is that enough to merit an Oh Sh&t! moment? Of course not. But under the circumstances – running a marathon, trying to BQ, oh the pressure! – I dare you not have at least one…

And so there was my next mile, powered Oh Sh&t:

Mile 11: 7:55

Carry On

I kind of came back to my senses after that. When my GPS beeped a 7:55 split, I knew all too well that this isn’t a pace I can sustain for another 16 miles. Plus, I was expecting fatigue to show up. So I backed off the pace a bit for the next few miles:

Mile 12: 8:13
Mile 13: 8:13

Ames-4640

Halfway point at 1:47. Coach D had told me to get there at 1:48-ish. I was ahead! See? Oh Sh&t moment completely unfounded. In fact, was I running too fast? Should I be having another Oh Sh&t moment because of that?

I was seriously thinking these things.

Mile 14: 8:28 (lots of rollers here, whoever said this course was flat?)
Mile 15: 8:11
Mile 16: 8:17

Suffer

As predicted, this is about where I started working harder to maintain the pace. I don’t know if the small climbs at mile 14 did it, or the miles were piling up, but I was looking at my watch every now and then and wishing this would be over, soon.

Mile 17: 8:11
Mile 18: 8:04
Mile 19: 8:15
Mile 20: 8:11

Still feeling fairly OK. I was eating a gel every 50 minutes, as instructed, and kept my pace in check: I may not have hit a wall yet, but going too fast too soon would likely ensure that I hit one in the next few miles. So put on my best Terminator face (and sunglasses), and tried to run strong.

Trey-7747

Mile 21: 8:21
Mile 22: 8:28
Mile 23: 8:32

Oops. What is happening? Why are my legs so heavy?

In fact, why am I doing this?

I’m slowing down and my legs won’t go any faster. I hate this. Stupid marathons. Whoever came up with the idea of a 26.2-mile race? This sucks. Yeah, no way I can finish in 3:35. Whatever. I don’t care. I seriously don’t. Everything sucks.

Oh look! My kid and husband are volunteering at an aid station! Awwwww! I love them. And they have a can of coke for me! I LOVE COKE! Oh wait, it exploded all over me. Whatever. I LOVE COKE! Mmmmm, tastes so good. (Burp.) This should help. Sugar! Caffeine! I LOVE CAFFEINE!


 

Mile 24: 8:24
Mile 25: 8:32 (the coke did help a little, but what can I tell you, mile 25 was hard)
Mile 26: 8:29
And final push: .2 at 8:06.

Bri-2729

I swear I felt like I was sprinting those last .2 miles. I crossed at 3:39-something on the clock, and 3:37:28 on my GPS.

My official time: 3:37:24.
Avg pace: 8:17
Overall place: 428 / 1441
Gender place: 103 / 607
AG place: 19 / 94

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

The high of running a Boston-qualifying marathon lasted for a few minutes, followed by leg cramps, tiredness and relief. It’s over!

Now, I wait to see if it was actually good enough to get me there.