Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes
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Greetings, Shoppers!

Welcome to December: the month of Mall Madness, Parking Lot Rinse-and-Spin, and Shopping with the Zombies.

Wouldn’t you rather be out on the trails?

Lucky for all of us, these days we can buy most anything we want online. The problem is, there’s so much stuff — how do you find just the right gift for your the runner or triathlete, fitness lover or adventure seeker in your life?

Here, as has become my tradition over the past few years, I share with you a few of my favorite things that not only have reasonable price tags, but are made by small businesses that are helping communities and making a difference in the world of endurance sports.

Read on, and you might just find the perfect stocking stuffers, white elephant or Secret Santa gifts for this year. (Check out my suggestions from last year, too.)

So, Dear Santa. This holiday season I’d like you please to bring to my fellow athletes:

1. This “Do Epic Shit!” tank from Betty Designs

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When it comes to dressing the female athlete, Betty Designs can do no wrong. Founder and owner Kristin Meyer has truly revolutionized women’s cycling, swimming and triathlon gear with her bold, edgy kits (check out the Fly collection!) — and has plenty of casual wear items, like this tank (and trucker), to enable you to make a badass statement off the race course, too! I have a few friends who’ve done some truly Epic Shit this year and you can bet they’re getting these for the holidays!

2. This “I just PR’d a little” tank from Skirt Sports

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Skirt Sports revolutionized women’s running in a way no other gear company – even Nike! – has done over the years. More than a decade ago, founder and CEO Nicole DeBoom created the first ever running skirt. She has since made it her mission to empower women in sports and inspire them to be active, no matter what size they wear, and feel good all the while. There are too many skirt models that are as cute as they are functional (hello, thigh pockets, back pockets and mini key-pockets!) and I do have my favorites, but if you’re looking for a fun tee that makes you smile, you can’t go wrong with the “I Just PR’ed a Little” tank.

3. This Gone For a Run Wine Glass

They have pint glasses for runners and triathletes, too!

Cheers!

4. This 2017 Runner’s Streak Calendar

Well, technically it’s a Daily Desk Calendar and yes, I know no one actually needs a big ol’ paper block to remind them what day it is any more. Wouldn’t it the perfect source of daily inspiration for those crazies you know who “streak”, a.k.a. run every day, though? Or anyone, really, who loves running. Right?

5.This Location Coordinates Necklace

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Are you shopping for someone who just completed an epic race or achieved a long sought-after goal? Help them commit that special place to memory – and a piece of beautiful jewelry – with this hand-made destination necklace from PlaidLab Studio. (Check out her Etsy shop more unique, handmade pieces.)

6. The new COMPETE Training Journal by Lauren Fleshman and Róisín McGettigan

This will be my third year of tracking my workouts in these journals. I started with the Believe Training Journal when it first came out and am now on the final weeks of the second edition. Lauren Fleshman and Roisin Dumas update the content each year, so the journals are a daily source of inspiration, in addition of helping me keep track and periodically look back on my training and goals. The perfect gift for an athlete who seeks consistency and adding structure and purpose to their training!

7. This Hyperspace lava-colored tee

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Know a dude who loves bikes and Star Wars? Score! Can’t go wrong with this t-shirt. I got that for HusbandRuns earlier this year and can attest to the high-quality material. (Indeed, it is very soft.) You’ll be supporting Endurance Conspiracy, an athlete-owned and managed company in Boulder, Colorado. Plenty more fun tees, tanks and truckers available on their website.

8. This Tank, T-shirt or Trucker designed for bike lovers

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Shameless plug for a tank I made for myself with CafePress and decided to make available to others to buy – because why not? CafePress lets you order all sorts of t-shirt, tank and hat models – I like the racer-back tanks for their versatility. I can wear them on short runs, post-run, or to hang around the house whenever I’m in a summery mood! Check out the other stuff in my Race With Heart shop, too.

9. The gift of (non-athletic!) style

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Last, but not least: If your athlete friends and loved ones are like me, they spend more time in (and money on) athletic gear than they do in “real-life” clothes. And shopping for clothes? It’s a nightmare. It’s ironic, really, that I have such a fun time buying matchy running clothes or cycling kits, but cannot for the life of me put together a decent outfit for a work meeting, casual day out and about, or a night out on the town.

Enter Stitch Fix. I’ll admit I resisted it for a very, very long time. I thought it was one of those “monthly box” blogger fads. But a few months ago I caved in and gave it a try — and I swear, no exaggeration, it has changed my life. Well, my wardrobe! I now have outfits that look good — and different from my usual “jeans and free race t-shirt” getup.

The quick-n-dirty on how Stitch Fix works:

1. You create an account and fill out a super detailed questionnaire about your style and preference. The more details you give, the more information your stylist will have when picking clothes for you! Visual help from Pinterest boards or your Instagram account are super helpful.

2. You schedule your fix and a stylist (human being) will select five pieces for you based on your preferences. Once you receive your fix, you’ll try them on and decide which ones to keep and which ones to send back in the prepaid envelope they’ve included in your box. Also included in the box is a style card with recommendations on how to pair the clothes with other stuff from your closet. Personally, I just paired them with each other, because my closet was so outdated!

3. The $20 stylist fee will be applied towards the items you decide to keep. If you keep all five, you’ll get a 20% discount.

4. You can schedule to receive new “fixes” as often as weekly, or spread as far as every three months. You can reschedule a fix at any time.

5. That’s it!

Phew! I didn’t mean to make this so long, but I’ve actually been so excited to finally get some decent items in my wardrobe without having to go to the store and try things on (and end up buying jeans, which I’ll later match with race shirts, anyway).

If all that sounds appealing, grab a Stitch Fix gift card — your friends will be thanking you for a long time!

Happy shopping, happy gifting – and many, many happy miles on the trails!
 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are referral/ affiliate links.

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10
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If I had to guess one item on the bucket list of most San Francisco Bay Area runners — or runners anywhere, really? — I’d go with running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d chance, even, that it’s an item you never really get to cross off the bucket list. You do it once, then again, and again – and it never gets old.

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The price you pay for racing on this beauty, however, is steep. Literally. Getting up to the bridge – and down, and back up again – involves hills. Not massive trail-like hills, but hills nonetheless.

I knew full well about those hills when I signed up for the 10-mile distance at the Mermaid Run San Francisco. The memories are fresh, even if it had been more a year and a half since I last ran a race over the bridge (the San Francisco Rock’n’Roll half marathon). But while the course doesn’t easily lend itself to a PR, the last time I ran that particular race was back in 2013, so I had a PR in mind anyway.

Truth be told, I was hoping to run somewhere around 1:15, a 7:30 min/ mile average pace. (One day, I really hope I can do this course in 1:10 — a 7 min/ mile average pace — but with this year’s race schedule, I knew that couldn’t happen… In fact, for me to be able to run 1:10 on this course, I think I’d need to make this race a key one for the season. Planning your race season: a topic for another, important!, conversation.)

Race Morning

I carpooled with a couple of friends and we got to the Marina Green early enough to score a convenient parking spot just a short walk away from the start. On the flip side, that is also when I realized I forgot my Honey Stinger gels… Not a terribly big deal, I should be able to survive 10 miles without extra carbs. (In hindsight, though: a huge deal for my mental game over the last two miles of the race.)

As usual, Moms Run This Town San Jose had a solid presence at the Mermaid Run and getting organized for a pre-race photo – or two! – was a party.

San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!
San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!

When we got the “five minutes to start” warning, I lined up near the front, put my music on and got ready to go.

Hills, wind and mind games

The first two miles of the course are flat and I settled into a comfortable pace. Probably slower than I should have been running, but I didn’t want to blow up too early in the race. The lead group took off super fast and I could barely keep them in my sight within the first mile. Obviously, those ladies were running a pace I couldn’t match for the life of me, so I just ran my own race.

As it happened, I spent those first miles in the company of a small group of ladies and a dude. Why men run those women-only events, I don’t know. We actually talked about this before the start and one suggestion was that they come to run with and support a woman in their life. That’s quite nice, indeed — except this dude was running solo and feeling quite competitive, it seemed. He took off chasing the lead pack and I was left to run with a few ladies in silence.

It’s weird, racing in a tiny group and with no spectators. Quiet to the point of awkward. It doesn’t quite feel like a race, but you know you must push and try to run your best. One long, silent mind game.

For me, anyway.

Every race tests the mind, but in this one, my mind games began much earlier than I thought they would. Just as soon as we started climbing those hills (somewhere along mile 3), I felt tired and started wondering if it’s even worth to push the pace to the point where my lungs hurt. Why? Why make myself hurt when this is the last race of the season, I could run a comfortable 8 min/ mile pace and still get my course PR, and just enjoy the day?

Oh shut up. Because. Because we’re runners, and we do these things to ourselves.

Then came my first course surprise. I saw that we are running out on the left side of the bridge (against traffic), and not on the right as I remembered it from 2013. Not a bad thing, since we wouldn’t have to share the narrow pedestrian walkway with runners still making their way out over the bridge while we were running back, but still. I was kind of bummed because one thing I loved about this course was seeing everyone I know on my way back over the bridge: the smiles and high-fives are such good distraction from the pain!

As it was, I had no distraction but the wind, the beautiful views of Marin and… the flight of stairs we had to run down to get to the other side of the bridge! Course surprise number two!

Down under the bridge we went, over to the other side, and — a flight of stairs to climb! So painful! So annoying that I was forced to slow down to a walk! (No point in running up stairs, it isn’t much faster and I’ll get way too winded to settle back into my pre-stairs pace easily.)

Another lesson in “always double-check the course, even if you thought you know it.”

Running back over the bridge was lonelier and windier than ever and not even the beautiful San Francisco skyline could distract me from the pain in my lungs and my tired legs. I somehow made it over the bridge and – a brief reprieve! – settled into a few delicious downhills before hitting the last two miles of the course.

The last two miles are on a straight, flat dirt path, and are simply brutal. Every time I’ve run this section in a race, I’ve suffered so much! I had actually set a pretty ambitious goal for myself pre-race: to muster the strength and try and run a 7:30 or 7:20 min/mile pace for those miles. Well, I couldn’t. All I kept thinking about was my gels, and how I forgot them, and I needed some calories, even though I drank some Gatorade from a couple of aid stations (and some of it tried to make its way back up my throat ewww… another reminder to not do stuff I haven’t practiced in training!).

I don’t know if that was a mental bonk or a physical bonk — the first is more likely! — but I ran those last miles in 7:57 and 7:47, and I swear I felt that I could not have gone one second faster.

My Garmin clocked my total mileage at 9.75, too, so either the course was short, or the GPS was off — possibly because of the stairs at the far end of the bridge? Who knows.

I was so happy to be done with it at that time, that I could care less about the actual distance, or my time. As it turned out, I finished in 1:16:39. Almost two minutes off my 1:15 goal, but I knew I had given all I had that morning.

I made a beeline for the food, too, and the bagel and banana tasted like heaven!


As usual at Mermaid events, I loved and soaked up the festive, friendly atmosphere. More than a thousand women looking strong, fit, healthy and fabulous in one of the world’s most beautiful places. What more could I want?

Oh, and there is a Philz Coffee truck right near the finish area. Perfection!

Time: 1:16:39
Pace: 7:39 min/ mile
Overall: 13 of 1139
Gender Place: 12 of 1118
Age group: 4 of 185

The 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon

The 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon
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Ever had one of these dreams where you’re trying to run, but no matter how hard you drive those legs and arms, you’re barely moving?

That was me on the final stretch of the 2016 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon. Trying my best to outrun what I later found out were 19 seconds.

And so I will give you the spoiler right here and tell you that I finished San Jose RnR with an official time of 1:40:18. My goal had been to run my first sub-1:40 half marathon. My “dream” goal had been to run 1:37:XX, which at the time of signing up for this race — immediately after I ran 1:40:09 at the Hellyer Half six months earlier — I had thought possible.

Not every race goes your way, however, and this one didn’t go mine. It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So now I have an opportunity to take stock of what happened. What went wrong and how can I fix it — and what went right and how can I improve it further?

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The Race

First things first: if you stumbled on here looking for more info about the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose half marathon, you can find a more detailed course description and photos here. This year, I could barely hang onto my goal pace and the last thing on my mind was taking the phone out of my skirt pocket to take pics.

There are three main things to know about SJ RnR:

  • It is flat. The total elevation gain my Strava registered for this course was 138 feet, although honestly, I doubt running under a freeway and back up the road amounts to that much. (Is “freeway underpass” a word? Can I call it that?)
     
    Thanks to its flat profile and what I can imagine is a generous purse, the race attracts amazing professional and elite runners every year. Meb Keflezighi ran it in 2015, and this year, Sara Hall was among the professional women. (She finished second.) The course has a few out-and-back sections, and it’s always cool to get a glimpse of the elites flying!
  •  

  • It is big. This year, there were nearly 11,000 half marathon and 10K finishers combined — and runners in both distances start together. I was in Corral 2 and when we looped back by the start around mile 5, people were still starting.

    sjrnr-start

    If you can’t make it to the start on time and end up in one of the later corrals, your race would likely involve a lot of zig-zagging.

  • It can get hot. Indian Summers are no joke in Silicon Valley and when Octobers get hot, San Jose is usually where it’s hottest. Every time I’ve run this race, it’s been at least 80 degrees at the 8 a.m. start. Dress accordingly.
     
    This year, the forecast called for cooler weather, but alas: it was nothing like a chilly, foggy or overcast morning in Santa Cruz or San Francisco. I was still too warm for comfort!

Expo

The Expo is just like all other Rock ‘n’ Roll event expos: big, crowded. I decided to get there right as it opened on Friday, to hopefully avoid the crowds. It turns out that hundreds of others had the same idea. Traffic going into the parking garage was nuts, the lines for bib pickup were already long. A “quick in-and-out” turned into a full hour – and I still consider this quite expedient :-)

As it happened, I returned early Saturday morning to get my ankle Rock Taped and the crowds were much better. So, for planning purposes: if you can get to the Expo right as it opens on Saturday, do that.

Race morning

It’s always fun to see San Jose transform into a city of runners on race morning. As this one starts relatively late – 8 a.m. is practically noon in runner speak! – I “slept in” until 6, got ready and got to the start area shortly after 7 a.m.

I had literally shoved some oatmeal down my throat before I got out of the car, so breakfast was taken care of — but water, that was another question. I was so. thirsty. Lucky for me, one of the moms in our local MRTT chapter (San Jose Moms Run This Town – join us if you live here!) had an extra bottle of water. I swear, those 8 ounces tasted like liquid gold spiked with pure ambrosia and blessed unicorn tears. Totally saved me.

  • Lesson #1: Hydrate well the whole week leading up to a race.
  • Lesson #2: Hydrate particularly well if you are planning on going to a birthday party the night before the race.
  • Lesson #3: Beer does not count.

At the start, I met up with my training buddy Joe. Joe is a much faster and stronger runner than me, but he has a li’l problem with pacing. Namely, he tends to blow out the gate at a 6-something minute/ mile pace – which is sustainable for a few miles, but not over the course of a half marathon. (Not this year, anyway! One day soon, I’m sure.)

So Joe and I worked together: our pace was in the 7:30s (or so we thought). I was holding him back while trying to keep up with him. Ha.

By mile 4, the pace felt harder than it should have and by mile 6, I was starting to deal with side stitches. They say those are a result of dehydration, so I kept drinking water – a cup at every single aid station.

By mile 8 – as tends to happen to me during San Jose RnR – I was hating everything about this race, this course, this city, this running thing — just, everything. We were still running in the 7:30-something range, but I noticed that my Garmin was ticking off the miles sooner than the mile markers.

By mile 9, Joe could no longer hang back with me and took off like a torpedo. So effortless. Jeez.

I kept thudding on. My legs were heavy, my lungs were burning, stupid stitches. I yet again regretted signing up for that race and carried on…

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As we made the right turn on Almaden Blvd, I looked at my watch and I saw it tick off 1:39. And I thought, maybe I’ve got this – maybe I’ll finish in 1:39:59. Maybe… And then I looked ahead and, I swear, every year I think the finish line is straight ahead on Almaden Blvd, but it isn’t. You take one more turn, left, on Park Avenue, and that is when you see the finish line. It is so close, yet so far away.

I pushed my legs as hard as I could in one never-ending long stride that made my lungs explode, and I crossed under the finish arch with an official time of 1:40:18.

Maybe if I had started that final kick a little earlier, I would have made it under 1:40. Maybe I could have pushed myself a little bit harder throughout. Maybe I would have, if my Garmin wasn’t slightly ahead with the miles (a pace in the 7:30s should get me across in 1:39:XX, and that’s what I was seeing on my watch). Maybe I should have at least tried to get a bigger cushion. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that beer the night before.

There is always a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” and lots of maybe’s after a race — but more often than not, those are excuses. The truth is, I did the best I could with what I had in me on that day. All my training leading up to this race was geared towards long distance triathlon or the marathon distance. My tempo runs and long runs in the weeks leading up to SJ RnR were all indicative of running a pace in the 7:40s — and only with luck and a very, very good day, in the 7:30s.

The way I see it, the 1:3X:XX half marathon is so, so close. I just have to work for some more. A goal for another day!

half-marathon-finish