Friday, February 19, 2016

Combatting the Cold

I just verified that it has been 18ish months since I contributed to the blog. That is far too long…my

Since my last post, I was diagnosed with a left femur stress fracture, moved across the country, and have  run a total of 5 races (4 in 2015 and 1 in 2016). The road to recovery has been a fickle web, woven with depression and self-doubt. While it has taken much longer to return to decent shape than it has in the past (I know, I know, I am getting older), I think I am almost there.

The intent of this post is not to review the failures of 2015 (there were many), but instead to provide
some helpful tips for combatting cold weather while you run.

As I mentioned before, my husband and I relocated from the land of perfect weather (the Bay area) to
Boston.  With the exception of the occasional east coast visits, it had been a long time since I have run regularly in cold weather. I grew up on the east coast and have vivid memories of training through the winter months. I remember early morning training runs when I could not feel or open my hands without assistance. I suffer from Reynaud’s phenomenon, something I am sure many of you are familiar with. Basically, when the temps are low and there is moisture in the air, my hands and feet lose circulation and hurt like hell. So when winter rolled around again, I feared for a very painful training cycle. However, cold weather gear has improved so much since I last lived on the east coast that I have found running in the cold to be much more enjoyable. I am sure you are all thinking LAYERS, and you are not wrong, but there are specific articles of clothing that I have found essential to combatting the cold. The key components I like to run in when the temps are lower than or hovering around freezing (from the inside outward) include the following:

The Base:
Top:  Typically I will use UA Cold Gear  or Craft Crew Neck as my base layer, the layer that comes in direct contact with my skin.

Bottoms: I use a lined pair of running tights. My current favorites include a pair of Asics Thermopolis Tights and a pair of random tights I bought from TJMax.

Socks: I highly recommend Smartwool or socks to keep your feet warm and dry.

Insulation Layer: If the temps are below freezing, then I will use an insulation layer such as a thin fleece. My favorites are actually old race swag from the Celtic Solstice 5 Miler and the Oakland Running Festival.

Outer layers: The Shell: I wear my hybrid full-zip jacket from Title 9. This jacket has been a life saver for me for sure. It is wind resistant with a plush fleece interior. It even includes thumb holes to provide extra insulation for the wrist and palms.

Gloves: Gloves are an essential component of running comfort in the cold. I love my Saucony convertible mittens. Admittedly, my hands are almost always cold, especially when the temps hover around 20 degrees or lower, but with the help of these gloves, they eventually warm up after a few miles.

Headgear: My choice in head warmth is temperature dependent. At temps above or around freezing, I
will opt for ear warmers; they typically provide enough warmth and ear protection to be comfortable.
However, when the temperatures drop below freezing I opt for a hat and an ear-warmer/headband.

During the winter months, we get less than ideal sunlight for training. In addition inclement weather can make for some pretty awful visibility conditions. That said, I like to wear a high visibility running vest outside of my jacket. I am more comfortable knowing that a car will spot me at greater distances when I am wearing the vest. In addition, I wear my high visibility bracelet.

Sub 30 degree - running gear

What do you prefer to run in when you run in the cold? I have been considering a face mask lately for colder and windy conditions, any suggestions?

Upcoming races:
Smuttynose Palooza 5k
Hyannis Marathon

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

LA Marathon 2016: Race Report

Posted by Rachel

I have so much to write about race weekend that this might end up being the longest blog post EVER. You have been warned.

Pre-race: Saturday February 13 - Olympic Trials

Part of the reason Travers chose to race LA this year versus Napa or something else was because the Olympic Trials marathon was the day before. And also, possibly, because he knew it meant he wouldn't have to do anything special for Valentine's Day. We ended up going to the expo/packet pickup around 8:30 am, and the trials were held right outside to begin at 10:00. We found a place under an underpass just about a half mile south of the start and hung out there. It wasn't empirically oppressively hot, but it was easily in the 70s and felt hotter in the SoCal sun which is not the ideal condition for a marathon. It was definitely rough on some of the competitors which is always difficult to watch. At this point Travers' parents met up with us to watch the race. Once the race got started it was SO EXCITING! I had a blast cheering for all of the runners and seeing the country's best run right by me only feet away. Wow. Here are a few photos I took (I apologize for the quality; lighting is not so great under an underpass).

Meb and Rupp, not long after their breakaway

Flanagan and Cragg... loved watching the training buddies race together :)

The rest of the day mostly consisted of moderating activity, food, etc. Vacation never feels quite right when you have a marathon hanging over your head. As a note to self, I will not sign up for any marathon on a vacation that I'd actually like to enjoy.

Race day: Sunday, February 14

I'm going to try to include enough detail about the course that random internet stalkers can get something out of this post. I'll start by saying that this was by far my biggest mistake - I didn't know the course. Obviously that's not entirely my fault, since I don't exactly live in LA. However, I should have done more research and committed what I read to memory. But instead of focusing on the negative (biggest mistake), I'll just go through the ups and downs of my day.

We took the 5 am shuttle from Santa Monica (the finish) and the ride didn't feel too long. Once we got to Dodger Stadium (the start), it was pretty neat because most of the stadium was just open to runners. Having all of those bathrooms open + porta potties in the parking lot + stadium seating really helped manage the crowd, I think. 25,000 is a huge amount of people but it never felt like that many. After going to the bathroom several times, Travers and I went to check our bags then hit up the corrals. I highly recommend signing up early if you're going to do this race to get into the corrals. I was in corral B, where I put myself smack between the 3:25 and 3:35 pacer. I didn't feel like there was much overcrowding at all. After the typical pre-race fanfare, we were off!

Miles 1-4
I knew from the course profile that the race starts with a brief uphill (69 feet over ~ 0.4 mile) then drops 151 feet in the remainder of the mile. I did find it to be a little bit crowded during this mile but not terrible. In mile 2, the course drops 118 more feet. The early downhill made it tough to gauge my pace because I didn't really know if I was going too fast or not (for new readers, if we actually have those, my goal was sub-3:30). There were a lot of turns in this part of the course and a lot of spectators with signs about God and the Bible. I have no idea where we were, but it was a little strange. I also thought I saw a pack of nuns but I may have been hallucinating. Miles 3 - 4 had little elevation change (20-30ish ft/mile) and I felt like a 7:50ish pace was coming nice and easy.

Miles 5-6
I read from a random stranger's blog that mile 5 had a couple of short but steep uphills. Unfortunately that means I wasn't expecting the short climbs that also occurred in mile 6. In mile 5 we climbed 118 ft total but dropped 59, and if I recall correctly this was spread over 2 hills. At the top of one of the hills there was an awesome drum line. In mile 6 we climbed another 95 feet and dropped 43. While climbs of 100 ft/mile aren't super significant, I knew they could hurt me later in the race. Mile 5 I kept at 8:00 pace, but mile 6 I slowed down intentionally and actually logged my slowest mile of the whole race here (8:11). I think these miles ran through downtown LA.

Miles 7-10
This is another example of where I should've studied a map, because I really don't have any idea where I was. I remember running past a pond or lake, which I later found out was Echo Park. This area was really nice and crowd support was pretty good considering it was early. In terms of elevation, all of these miles had some small gradual inclines and declines. I still felt mentally pretty good here, but that was about to end soon.

Miles 11-14
These miles were part of a long stretch on Sunset Blvd/Hollywood Blvd. There was pretty good crowd support and some touristy sights to see, but it was a little bit tough to just have the long straight road ahead. Here approaching the half I realized I was already almost 0.2 miles ahead of the mile marker (bad tangents), meaning I knew I'd have to be significantly sub-8 on my Garmin to hit my goal. There was no marker for the half, but I remember crossing at about 1:43:45 or so which seemed pretty good. However, this stretch was also the first part where I thought to myself "oh shit", because my quads were already getting tired and I wasn't even half way there. I was a little bit depressed about that for a mile then told myself to suck it up - I was halfway to meeting my goal! I also got hit in the face by a banana discarded by another runner during this stretch, which pissed me off pretty bad for about half a minute. I looked around and couldn't figure out who did it, so I just let it go.

Mile 15
I put this mile by itself because there is a pretty big downhill - 180 ft in a less than mile. I loved the "free" speed that I got from this mile at the time, but what I really should've been doing was saying goodbye to my quads :p Luckily the Oakland Marathon has a ridiculous beast of a downhill and this one was nothing compared to that.

Miles 16-20
This is where I'm a total fool for not knowing the course. I knew there were some gradual climbs around mile 20, but I thought they were all in this section. For example, mile 17 had a 62 ft climb but it wasn't that bad and the crowd support was still pretty good. I also think I passed Rodeo drive somewhere around mile 15-17, which was the last tourist attraction that I noticed. Even though my legs were pretty tired as I approached mile 20, I started to get a feeling of excitement that I could meet my goal of sub-3:30. I was holding 7:5x on my Garmin and feeling tired during this segment, but I had confidence from one of my training runs (a 20 miler with the last 10 @ goal marathon pace) that I could run 8-9 miles at goal pace on tired legs.

Mile 21
Shit hits the fan (mentally anyway). I still have no idea where I was - a combination of a horrible sense of direction and not knowing the course. This mile had 69 feet of climbing and no downhill, which itself isn't too bad. However, the course support had dwindled and there was very little shade. There were a lot of people walking here and somehow I was near the 3:25 pacer (who must have finished a bit slow). I was dying and I figured the pacer must know the course, so I asked him, "is this the last uphill?" Before he could answer, a guy in his group laughs in my face "HA! We have two more tough miles after this one!" Ugh, you've got to be kidding me. Then the pacer came back with "You're doing great, keep it up! It's downhill at mile 24." As I'm sure most marathoners know, mile 24 might as well be 10 miles away from mile 21. I told myself it was ok if I slowed down, but I still somehow clocked an 8:05.

Mile 22
Another 50 feet of climbing, but also with 49 feet downhill. I was so excited to get to this mile because I knew my sister and her friend were out there cheering in Brentwood! I am so appreciative that they were out there, and I had all these plans to hug her and say hi and thank her and ask her if Travers had already gone by. However, when I did see her, all I could do was throw my fuel belt at her and say "these hills are f*cking killing me." Thanks, sis! Seeing her must have given me some motivation though because I managed a sub-8:00 mile (7:58.8 - still counts!)

Miles 23-24
These miles are basically flat (no more than 20 ft climbing or dropping) but they felt awful. I began walking through aid stations and telling myself I could slow down but not too much because if I went any slower than 8:30 I wouldn't achieve my goal. Somehow I managed to keep an 8:04 for both of these miles, although I had no idea how that happened.

Mile 25
Downhill, finally (95 ft drop in this mile). Not that my quads felt stable or good or anything. At this point I was just telling myself to finish, and if I broke 3:30 I wouldn't make myself do it ever again. I was just looking at the ground and focusing on not dying and then I hear "hey!". I looked up and it was Travers!!! I was so happy to see him and told him we should finish together. Then he asked how fast I was running. I noticed I was around 7:40 for that mile (a downhill miracle) and told him so, and he said "no way". So I asked if he wanted me to go ahead and he said yes. I was fairly sure he'd pass me again later but he never did. It was great knowing he was nearby though because I knew we could meet up in the finisher area.

Mile 26
This is that point in the race where it's like FTS, you might as well give it everything. The faster you go, the sooner it's over. Another loss of 92 ft of elevation aided my 7:28 mile and I was ready to be done.

Mile 26-26.5
Due to my generous Garmin + bad tangents, I ended up running 26.51 miles during this race, with the last 0.5 @ 7:01 pace. I just pictured all the track workouts I did and gave the 800 m to the finish everything I had. I figured if I could finish in a 3:27 instead of a 3:28, I might as well do that because it's not like I was running a marathon that hard again any time soon (if ever). 

I crossed the line in 3:27:39, a PR that exceeded my goal. However, I was so beat up from the race that I honestly didn't even feel that excited about it. It was more a feeling of relief that I was done. My half splits ended up being approximately a 1:43:45/1:43:54, which is honestly some kind of miracle given how I felt. I guess that's what they mean when they say "trust your training" - even though I suffered, I can definitely look back at how hard I've trained over the last 3 months and know that I got out what I put into it. Overall, the course climbed 850 ft and dropped 1250 feet. Living in the Bay area this is obviously not the hilliest of all runs I have encountered, but it's no freaking joke in a goal marathon race. 


It was supposed to be really hot on Sunday, but luckily it was much cooler than predicted. I don't know the actual numbers, but if I had to guess it maybe got into the high 60s/low 70s for the hottest miles. In the beginning of the race there was a lot more shade than I expected - a nice bonus. There was also a layer of fog over Santa Monica that made for a nice finish. While I did pour water over my head at some of the aid stations from miles 14-24, a practice I don't typically do, I don't feel that the weather affected my race in any way. Another note is that while there are 22 official aid stations, there are also a lot of other groups on the course helping out with water and other items to consume (I also saw beer and corn dogs I think). 

Post race
My sister and her friend came down to Santa Monica and we all got food and ICE CREAM and hung out on the beach (the fog burned off). 

 I love the beach, and probably should plan my next vacation around beaches and not running

 Celebrating Valentine's Day and our PRs in style. Right before falling asleep at 7 pm.

A relaxing end to a not at all relaxing day

It finally felt like vacation, except for being highly immobile. The following day it was super hot out and we went to the La Brea tar pits and LACMA (art museum) with Travers' parents.

Tar Pits - museum is a good post-race activity

Overall, I'm honestly not sure if/when I'll "race" another marathon. I'm actually signed up for the Oakland Marathon in 5 weeks (oops), but the difference between running an 8:00 pace and 9:00 pace is night and day to me and Oakland is always my favorite race :) After Oakland I'm not signed up for anything, but will probably go back to training more swimming, biking, and strength. And maybe try to PR a 10k. Whatever we decide to race, it'll be a fun spring/summer :)

Monday, February 8, 2016

The LA Marathon is coming....

Posted by Rachel

...just in time for a record heat wave. I feel like I need Alanis Morissette to re-write the song ironic for this. All summer, we trained in the hottest, driest conditions to prepare for what was shaping up to be another hot IM Canada. We tortured ourselves to do a 109 mile bike ride with 8600 ft climbing on a day when it was 90+ degrees  just to make sure we could do it, and so we were prepared for the fueling and hydration that would be required. Then, on race day, we got this:

My sister took this after the swim. 48 and raining, and it actually got colder after the swim before it got warmer. I rode 56 miles without functioning hands. Good thing we were prepared for the heat.

Then, this winter, we did plenty of runs in cool, wet conditions. When Travers and I signed up for the LA Marathon in an El Nino year we were sure we'd need to be ready for rain, rain, and rain. I was lamenting to Chen during a long run 3 weeks ago that I was worried I didn't do enough running in downpours. And now, we get this:

82 on race day. You have got to be kidding me.

What can I do? For now, the plan is to stick with the goal: sub-3:30. My last marathon "race" was CIM 2012, where Chen and I ran a 3:32 in a monsoon. It's funny how running evolves; I've been looking at my training paces now compared that to training cycle. My track intervals are no faster at all (slower actually), my tempo runs are only 5 - 10 sec/mile faster, but my easy/relaxed long run pace is 15 - 20 sec/mile faster. I wonder if that's typical to have so much improvement at one distance/type of run but not another. (You can say it - it means I'm getting old, doesn't it?) Regardless, I feel like a much stronger runner than I was when 3:32 happened so as Travers would say - I'm going to balls out! (With caution and excessive hydration, of course.) And if I fail at my marathon goal, 82 and sunny is lovely beach weather.