Friday, December 15, 2017

Race Report: California International Marathon 2017 (AKA The Surprise PR!)

Posted by Chen

I’m going to be real trite here and say: Is this thing on?

It’s been nearly 2 years since I last posted on this blog, and I have to say – I miss the days of documenting our training and telling stories of our experiences (and mishaps) along the way! As such, I thought I’d pop back in and write a race report for my 6th California International Marathon (CIM) and 32nd marathon overall, which happened a couple weeks ago on Sunday, December 3rd.

Going into this race, I felt calm and strong, but given that I had also been run-streaking for 243 days, I had major doubts about whether I’d truly been able to taper while running a minimum of 3.1 miles every single day. I wasn’t stressing about that, though; I had very few expectations and figured it would just be an interesting exercise to see what happened when I trained for a race by streaking. After 31 marathons, it’s always good to mix things up J.

Despite my tempered hopes, I also knew that my training runs had gone pretty well this cycle. Between the Santa Rosa Marathon in August (during which it was a million degrees and I slogged through to a 3:56 finish) and CIM, I had 12 weeks of consistent tempo work and long runs, with several track/interval/hill sessions thrown in there for good measure. It was nice to see progress again after ~2 years of generally mediocre (read: lazy) running, and while I still thought my PR days were behind me prior to this race, I figured I would try for a BQ time (which for me in 2019 meant a 3:40, or a 3:36-3:37 if I wanted to guarantee a spot). Aging up has its perks!

One thing I love about CIM is that it’s relatively close to the Bay Area, making for a pretty casual race weekend routine. I’ve run this race every year since 2011 with the exception of 2015, which means I know exactly where I need to be and when. As a sometimes neurotic planner, that knowledge helps me minimize any logistics-related stress.

My general CIM weekend schedule consists of a shake out run Saturday morning, heading up to Sacramento after lunch, checking into my hotel downtown, walking to packet pick up at the convention center, and then finding delicious carbs as well as an adult beverage or two. And that adult beverage is key. Important part of training. This year, I did exactly that, and I found some very tasty Thai food at a place called Chic on Q. If you’re ever in downtown Sac-town, I highly suggest you check them out!

While we ate dinner in our hotel room, Will and I started watching a ridiculous movie (Unforgettable) with Katherine Heigl and Rosario Dawson that may as well have been on Lifetime. It was awesome in that awesomely bad kind of way, so I obviously had to stay up way too late to see how it ended. And it was actually kind of fascinating and I’m glad I did. But with that, it was really time for me to get my ass to bed, and I managed to fall asleep quite quickly.

Race day

Race morning came with an early wake-up call of 4am so that I could get ready and catch the 5am busses to Folsom, where the race would begin. For those not familiar with CIM, it’s a point-to-point course from Folsom to downtown Sacramento with a net downhill of ~400 feet and rolling hills throughout the first 21 miles (it levels out after that). I love rolling hills because they allow me to mix up my muscle usage, which for me means I fatigue less quickly. That said, this course is often billed as being a fast one and good for Boston Qualifying, which some people take to mean that it’s flat or all downhill. I assure you it is not! It certainly doesn’t have the hills of San Francisco, but be prepared for lots of little ups and downs.

Another thing I love about CIM is that they allow you to stay on the warm, heated busses until just before the race start (7am). That was a particularly nice feature to have that morning given that it was in the upper 30s, and we weaksauce Californians can’t hang with that. We arrived in Folsom around 5:50am or so, and I was still so sleepy that I ended up taking a legit nap until 6:20am (you know you’re relaxed pre-race when that accidentally happens!).

When I woke up and saw that I was one of maybe 3 people left on the bus, I decided I should probably get this show on the road. Perhaps the thing I love the MOST about CIM is the seemingly never-ending line of porta-potties that they have at the start. It seriously takes many minutes to walk from one end of the porta-potty row to the other, and as a runner whose worst nightmare is pooping my pants mid-race, it’s like a fantasy come true. I found a line that seemed shorter, made it through within 20 minutes, reluctantly took off my warm sweats, and bag checked my gear.

I headed towards the starting area and found the 3:37 pacer, figuring I’d stay somewhere around that group for a while. I don’t actually like running WITH pace groups, because I find people can be oddly territorial about their position near the pacer, and in crowded races with narrow streets, it can be impossible to get around them. However, I knew the CIM course well enough to know that the streets would be wide enough for me to find my own space while still having someone to follow.

The national anthem was pretty cool this year, as it was played by the trumpet player from Cake (who I never knew was local to Sac-town!). That was followed by another gem of a moment, when just before the gun went off, to pump up the crowd, they played “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. I was moderately obsessed with that song back in 2012 (just ask Rachel about the shenanigans I pulled at her wedding), and it was another hint that maybe this would be a good day.

The gun went off at 7am sharp like it always does, and I promised myself I would follow my (loose) plan of keeping it VERY easy for the first couple miles before settling into a steady pace. I clocked in at 8:16 and 8:20 for my first two, which was definitely faster than I’d planned for, but the effort level was right. After that, I naturally picked up the pace to the low 8’s, which was again faster than I’d anticipated, but it felt quite easy, so I went with it.

One thing I noticed early on was that even though I was picking up my pace, the 3:37 group was still in front of me, meaning the pacer was WAY ahead of goal time, and I knew from that point on that I couldn’t rely on him and needed to monitor my own Garmin. PSA to pacers everywhere: Don’t be like that guy.

I don't actually have any idea when this photo was taken. Let's pretend it was taken early on.

Although I was keeping my effort steady, I noticed that my pace slipped to the 8:1X’s during miles 7-9, which normally would have made me nervous, leading to all sorts of self doubt and negative thoughts. One thing I’ve tried to work on with my running lately is my mental game, and I think that played a huge role in my ability to PR that day. Instead of worrying that I was already falling apart before mile 10, I reassured myself that I was still running at an easy effort and that my slip in pace 1) wasn’t that dramatic (like, seriously, Chen – get a grip), and 2) probably had to do with the hills at that point in the race. That tactic worked – I let it go, and I subsequently saw my pace drop back down into the low 8’s after that. And if I did see an occasional mile in the 8:1X’s, I reminded myself that this entire race had already gone faster than anticipated and that I was still feeling good.

1 – 8:16
2 – 8:20
3 – 7:58 (downhill)
4 – 8:03
5 – 8:02
6 – 8:04
7 – 8:11
8 – 8:14
9 – 8:11
10 – 7:57

Mile 10 is one of my favorite moments in the race, when you make a big turn in Fair Oaks and see a ton of people cheering and screaming their faces off for you. Marathon spectators are the best (and marathon volunteers are the bestest). That turn is quickly followed by one of the largest and longest climbs of the race, but I put my head down, reminded myself that I lived in SF for 8 years and that this was nothing, and got over that hill at a steady effort.

This was definitely taken like two seconds after the photo above. Again, let's keep pretending.

After that, I fell into a groove, and things were generally a blur through the middle miles. At that point, I had thrown away the disposable water bottle that I always start with, meaning that I had to actually utilize the water stops. It's always comical during a goal race when you don’t want to waste too much time stopping, so you try to run through them but just end up spilling electrolytes all over yourself. Word to the wise: Just stop, drink, and start up again. It doesn’t actually take that much extra time, and you end up in a much more hydrated place J.

11 – 8:01
12 – 8:08
13 – 8:02
14 – 8:01
15 – 8:11
16 – 7:55
17 – 8:02
18 – 8:05
19 – 7:57
20 – 8:04

I remember hitting the area around 19 or 20 when they always have a large inflatable brick wall for you to run through, and I was amazed at how strong I still felt. This is usually the point in a race when I know if I’m going to negative split (a rarity) or if I’m going to blow up (yep, usually), and this time, I told myself that this was where the real race began.

Another part of my mental game focus has been telling myself that marathons are supposed to hurt, and that when the pain sets in, you should just expect it and embrace it, rather than let it get you down. So when I slowly picked up the pace further into sub-8:00 territory and finally started feeling the fatigue that I normally feel in marathons, I let it happen, told myself it was normal, and kept going.

At this point, I had long passed the 3:37 group and was coming up on the 3:32 group, and I started to do some mental math. A PR (which at the time was 3:31:12) still seemed out of the question, but I figured something in the low-to-mid 3:30s was still possible, which would far surpass my expectations for the day, and that gave me an extra boost.

It looks like I'm trying harder in this photo, plus it's sunnier out, so let's assume this happened later in the race.

It wasn’t until mile 24 that I realized a PR was actually possible (I was still in disbelief/shock about that even as it was going down in front of me), so I decided to give it everything I had left and ran my last 2.33 miles at tempo pace, which I never imagined I could do at the end of a full marathon. As I made the last turn towards the state capitol, I sprinted it in and crossed the line with a new PR of 3:30:51. Even as I received my medal and post-race treats, I was still in disbelief but also incredibly elated with the entire race experience.

21 – 8:04
22 – 7:59
23 – 7:53
24 – 7:54
25 – 7:37
26 – 7:24
26.33 – 7:02

Overall time: 3:30:51 (8:01 Garmin pace, 8:03 official)

Yay for free race videos from which you can steal a free screenshot!

As I said before, I legitimately thought my days of PRing were over (because let’s be honest, we’re getting old here), but after this race, I’m eager to see if I can finally run a sub-3:30. This has been a goal of mine since marathon #2 (goal for marathon #1 was to simply not die), because there was a time in my life when running a single sub-8:00 mile seemed impossible. To hold that pace for 26.2 would mean a lot to me, and I think I can do it. I just need to do what I did this time and not flake on my speed work every single week J.

In terms of what’s next, I’ve been keeping up the run streak (today was Day 256!) but plan to keep it easy until the New Year. At that point, I’ve signed myself up for a strength training program and am really eager to see how that impacts my running. I will likely sign up for Mountains 2 Beach in May and then CIM again in December (creature of habit), so I’ll have a couple of shots on goal in 2018.

Until then, I plan to consume my body weight in wine. Every week. Cheers, and happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: TrainerRoad training plan - Olympic triathlon base

Posted by Rachel 

I've had TrainerRoad for a couple of years, but usually only select the workouts that I like. It doesn't mean they aren't hard, but I always pick them because I know they're doable. They're in my comfort zone even if they're painful (if that makes any sense). This year I really need to get better at cycling, so I decided to let TrainerRoad tell me what to do.

I cycled for several weeks before beginning the Olympic triathlon - mid distance base phase. It is a 6 week plan that has a mixture of workouts. There are a couple of notable workouts that I was forced to do that I never would've chosen before.

Shasta - a workout that has short 20-sec intervals at 200% FTP. I never would have thought 200% FTP is even possible, but I was happy to find that it wasn't too bad!

Galena- This is one I NEVER would have selected, 3 x 20 min intervals between 90-94% FTP. It appears twice during the training plan - the first time I almost died doing it, but the second time went pretty well!

Phoenix - 75 min at 80-85% FTP. Pretty boring, but forced me to practice aero, and much easier the second time than the first.

Overall, my FTP went from 189 W to 201 W, an increase of 6.3% in 6 weeks! I'm pretty happy with this, except for one small thing... makes the build phase SO HARD. I don't like 120% of FTP, it's not a fun place to be, but it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time there. I did the 2nd workout of this phase on Wednesday and thought my legs were going to fall off. It will be interesting to see if my FTP will increase again - I'll report back!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Biking and running in Burgundy-Beaune, France

Posted by Rachel

Happy 2017, everyone! I have a couple of posts I've been meaning to compose for a while, and this biking/running in Burgundy is one of them. I started posting about exercising in each of the spots we visited in France for many reasons: for people planning to visit who wanted to see some of the options, for any family/friends who were interested in more details about our vacation, and for my own documentation and reference. I'll probably skip posting about running in Paris because I don't think we found anything non-obvious (ie. we ran along the river). Beaune, however, was a different story. It was awesome exercising in Nice because I LOVE the ocean, but admittedly it wasn't that radically different than California. Beaune probably topped Nice in biking and running uniqueness.

Looks like wine country!

To understand why biking and running in Beaune is so much different than California even though we too have plenty of vineyards, there is a key point to understand about Burgundy. Instead of having discrete large plots of properties owned by single families or groups as we do in Napa or Sonoma, Burgundy is more "communal" where a family or group owns a few rows of vines in several of the micro-regions spread throughout Burgundy. This is important because it means that there is a lot more public access between/throughout vineyards. In fact, they basically invite you to travel through the vineyards.

Around the town, it was fairly easy to find maps highlighting the options for different run distances.

Snapshot of a map we brought with on us our phones. The map was prominently displayed in a town park.

For one of our runs we decided to follow the green route through the vineyards and it actually reasonably well-marked (though we still did take a couple of wrong turns). The run was a combination of paved and trail, and it was moderately hilly.

If you ran through someone's vineyard like this in the US I'm pretty sure you'd be asked to leave. Or shot. 

I should note that there is also a paved bike path and it's easy to run a simple out and back on that as well (more details below). But even though I'm not much of a trail runner I did enjoy the wine trail adventure.

Photo from the solo morning run I did a different day on the paved bike trail. Someone had drank too much wine the previous day to accompany me on the run, and I didn't trust myself to not get lost on the trails. 

Biking in Beaune was SO AWESOME! The paved dedicated bike path through the vineyards in shown in the picture and easy to find from the town.

Veloroute la voie des vignes

The trail goes for miles and there are small towns every 2-3 km to stop for water, food, cafe, wine, etc. I don't think there's much need for a guided tour if you want to do this ride, the signage is very good. I'm not good enough with words to describe how cool this ride is, so I'll just inundate with you captioned photos.

Vineyards for miles

Sometimes the vineyards were surrounded by brick walls built thousands of years ago - the age of everything built here is SO much older than California

Headed into one of the towns

Wine cellar that we happened upon during our ride. It was a little creepy at first because nobody there spoke english and they were just leading us into a dark basement. Luckily when we got there it was filled with wine and not torture devices or anything else creepy. And nobody stole our bikes from outside while we were down there... another bonus.

In summary, if you're in France and you like wine, running, and biking, you can't go wrong with a stop in Beaune. I'm sure there are equally awesome wine/bike/run places in France, but we can highly recommend Burgundy based on our experience.