My SF Marathon 2012 Race Recap

So you might be wondering why you haven’t seen a post on my SF Marathon. Well, it’s in part because it was a rough race and didn’t go as well as I expected. In addition to that, when I was relaying this story to my friend Derek (the one I interviewed recently) he encouraged me to share the honest truth with the folks over at Greatist.

So I wrote something that appeared last week in Greatist’s weekend edition, but I wanted to share it directly with my blog readers here. I think down the road, I’d like to do a piece on “things I’ve learned so far about running” but let’s start with this race recap.

What I Learned from My First (Blunder-Filled) Marathon

After many months of training, I ran my first marathon this summer. It was agonizingly hard, and I made a lot of mistakes both in training and in the race — but I made it to the finish line. Did it change my life? No. Did it make me a better runner? Yes. Was it worth the hurt? Definitely.

This is how I prepared for and completed that 26.2 mile race. Hopefully my experience and mistakes can help your own journey to completing that first marathon.

Deciding to Run

After graduating from college and finishing an NCAA career in men’s gymnastics, I spent a few unsatisfying years lifting weights to stay in shape. On a whim, I tried running in a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers (those minimalist shoes) and loved how they felt. I hated doing any kind of running as a gymnast, and despite a major knee injury requiring numerous surgeries, the minimal footwear made running fun and basically pain-free.

My competitive career as a runner began in July 2011 when I ran in the San Francisco Marathon’s 5k. The adrenaline rush from that first 5k was thrilling and got me rehooked on being a competitive athlete. In the months following, I ran more 5ks, a few 10ks, and even some half marathons.

Around the winter holidays, I thought to myself, “It’d be pretty awesome if I came back to next year’s SF Marathon and did the full distance. Seven months should be plenty of time to train.” For whatever reason, I felt that finishing a marathon would officially make me a “real” runner. And before I knew it, I had an SF Marathon registration email sitting in my inbox, and there was no going back.

SF Marathon 2012 Race Course

Training for the Race

The marathon distance was daunting, but I knew from my years as a gymnast that with the right training, the seemingly impossible becomes possible. I looked at several well-known marathon training plans, but they generally required running 5 or more times a week, and I wanted a plan with lower mileage to protect my knee. I ultimately turned to running blogger/coach Jason Fitzgerald to devise a custom plan for me.

I ran about three times a week: One easy run, one longer run with a few miles at a faster “tempo” pace, and a slow long run on the weekend. I lifted weights, used the elliptical or performed body-weight exercises on two other days, and rested the other two days. Continue reading…

Long Runs, Tapering and Final Marathon Prep

I’m running the San Francisco Marathon this Sunday.

It sounds so oddly nonchalant as a weekend activity – like I’ve decided to watch a movie or have brunch with a friend. When I hear the words come out, it sometimes feels like someone else is saying them.

I’ve known this day was coming for a while, but it’s still surreal to have it finally be here.

Long Runs

The last few weeks of training since the Lake Chabot Half Marathon have gone pretty well. I followed the PR Race Plan Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running put together for me and it’s been great. Building up the distance beyond the half marathons has been hard – especially early on, the last few miles of every run were really tough on my feet.

Over time, I’ve come to enjoy these 2+, 3+ hour runs and completing them have helped me gain confidence in my ability to finish. Here are my last few weekend long runs (with links to Runkeeper):

I was pretty bummed to miss the 20 miler. After having a tough long run in New York and splitting up the distance in the next run, I was looking forward to testing myself in my final big long run. Unfortunately, I started feeling pretty crappy starting Friday morning (aches, weakness) that I knew trying to push myself that weekend would have been foolish.

Tapering and Final Prep

It feels weird to run so little after running so much, but the two week taper is an important part of my training plan. I realized the marathon actually starts around 5:42 am for me, which means I need to get up around 4:30am. Since I normally sleep around 1am, I’ve been sleeping earlier and earlier to prepare my body for this early morning race.

I also got some last minute gear for the race:

  • a Camelbak water bottle with a handle so I can just palm it
  • Gu gels to keep me fueled up during the run
  • a sweatband to keep my eyes stinging over ~4 hours
  • new injinji socks to keep my feet blister-free

The most important preparation left is all mental. I have a good friend and former teammate who was planning to pace me for the 2nd half of the race, but I just got a call from him saying he might have broken his elbow in a biking accident so who knows.

Either way, I know that my mental game has to be totally on point for this race to be a success. I want to break 4 hours, which means running 9:09 mins/mi for 26.2 miles straight, having never run more than 16 miles in one go.

Intellectually I understand that most first-time marathoners never run the full distance before the race, and that their long runs are slower than race pace, but the gymnast in me, which is used to practicing something tons of times before competing, is a little thrown off.

Still, I have to trust that my training has put me in a good place. My feet getting hot/sore on long runs no longer seems to be a limiting factor and the SF hills are no longer intimidating after 3 races and a collective 33 miles run on far hillier trails.

All that’s left to do is to run my race. And I plan to do exactly that. Wish me the best and I’ll do a full recap after the marathon!

Photo Credit: HalfMarathons.net

The Hills Can Kill: A Tale of Two Trail Races

trail runningPhoto Credit: lululemon athletica

I ran two races in the last three weeks. The first was the Mercury Mine 12k race in San Jose (when everyone else in the Bay Area was at Bay to Breakers) and then last Sunday I ran the Lake Chabot Half Marathon in San Jose. Both were super hilly trail runs (hence the photo – I don’t have any good shots of the courses) and made for some interesting experiences.

Mercury Mines 12k – May 20

I was originally slatted to run this race (official race site) in April but strong rain showers moved the date to May 20th (sort of an early birthday present to myself). I ran the race with a friend, Jared Tame, who got into running about six months ago and runs a startup called Bloch, which teaches people how to program. The race started out easy going but about a mile in, there was just an absolutely massive hill. You can see it in the elevation profile: We started running it but about 30 seconds in realized that everyone in the pack was walking. A middle-aged woman walked past us and was like “Yeah, just walk it. That’s the smart thing to do, even pros walk big hills on trail races. Save your energy for the downhill.” After walking for what seemed like forever, we finally clear the peak.

We were not even two miles in. Continue reading…

Dealing with Blisters, Avoiding Ankle Pain and Other Lessons From My Second 5k Race

I finished my second 5k race a few weeks ago at Steven’s Creek Trail. I ran with my roommate Michael (who’s doing his own startup OYO Glasses) and completed it in 25:58, finishing 72nd out of 232 people (7th out of the 16 guys in my age group). It was slower than my first 5k by about 90 seconds which is kind of a bummer, but my training was also a bit off (you’ll see why in a minute). Also, this time I had shorts on. =)

I don’t want to turn this blog into a training / race log so I’ll focus on some useful things I’ve learned before and after the race.

Avoiding Feet / Ankle Pain

 

I'm screaming not from ankle pain here but just from general exhaustion in my all-out sprint to the finish.

I ran my first 5k in Vibrams and it was great. But after running in Vibrams all the time on pavement, I found my feet and ankles really starting to bother me. I took some time off to see if I just needed some rest but even after not running for most of August, it still hurt when I started running. I knew I wasn’t running hard to enough to have that serious of an injury, so I needed to try new tactics: Continue reading…