Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ragar SoCal Ultra Recap - So Much Cooler Online!

Hey Guys.  So this weekend, I did this: 

6 girls, a van driver, and 203.5 miles.  

We each ran three legs ranging from 5.5 miles to 20 miles each across Southern California. 30-42 miles total.

This was a weekend I'll probably remember as the absolutely most ridiculous, painful, wonderful, heartbreaking, best-ever days I've had in a long time.  I think I finally understand why people do ultra-marathons (not that I just did one).  Apparently, there's a fine line between "worst and most painful experience" and "most uplifting experience" when it comes to running.  And that's what I felt this weekend. Here's my part of the team's story:



Van decoration and getting ready was pretty uneventful beyond some random rent-a-cop yelling at us to get our van out of the road.  Pam cut up about 15 pounds of fruit and we had plenty of toilet paper, so we were good to go.  At 1PM, SkinnyRunner was off.  (She killed 10 miles at a nearly 7 flat pace, by the way).

1st Leg

I was the third runner in the relay, and by the time I was running, it was about 3:30 PM.  I figured since I had the shortest leg of any of the girls, it would be no big deal.

Turns out...it was a big deal.  At least to me. 

I was in a lot of pain throughout most of my first leg.  The 500 ft hill wasn't really the worst part...it was the heat, and Friday rush-hour traffic, and the constant traffic lights were awful.   There's nothing more frustrating than losing a good ten minutes just standing at stop lights. 

By the time I was almost finished with the 5.5 mile leg, I was done.  I'm a pretty overly dramatic runner in general, but I think my performance as I finished this leg took the cake.  I ran off from my teammates, cursed up a storm, and almost cried.  I felt like a shitty team member.  "If I was THAT bad at a 5 mile leg, how bad of a team member am I going to be when I run the longer legs".

As I handed off to Chiara, I yelled in the most serious tone "BE CAREFUL OUT THERE" in an attempt to convey that the heat felt dangerous.  Apparently she took my warning literally and spent the next few miles wondering if there was a murderer on the loose in Southern California. 

Pam getting ready for her first leg

The afternoon wore on and the rest of the girls clicked off their legs, gradually marching uphill into Temecula and the Inland Empire.   They were rock stars for making it through the heat and the hills.

Us pigging out on pizza that Pam's husband brought us.  THANK YOU, Rocky!

2nd Leg

Sometime around 11PM, Nicole finished our last leg in our 1st rotation, and it was time for us to all roll again.  SkinnyRunner had a 19 mile long leg, and Pacer Dave (who is pretty much a running angel) came to join her. 

Reflective Vests:  SO in for Spring.
After clicking off 19 miles, it was time for SarahOual to run.  I was pretty scared of my next legs as they totaled somewhere between 14 and 15 miles, and were pretty hilly.  Also, running at 2AM is just weird. 

Turns out...they were the best part.

The first half of my run was really downhill.  So downhill that I was afraid of wrecking my quads by taking it out too hard.  It was still pretty fun to cruise down 800 ft over 4 or so miles....

As I started the second part of my leg, a small miracle happened: Saint Brian, Ouals's Husband joined me.   He was an amazing running buddy and we pretty much we just ran together in silence.  It was great just to have someone there. 

The whole time on my run, it was very foggy and cool.  And the fun thing about running late at night when you haven't slept is that you start to hallucinate a little.  Or at least I did.  Every shadow was weird and every tree movement freaked me out.

After a little under two hours, Brian and I pulled into the next exchange point and I felt sweet relief.  2/3 of my legs were done, and maybe I could catch an hour of sleep.

All done! 
3rd Third (it all falls apart)

This is the point in the relay when I realized I'd really underestimated this beast of a relay.  I'm pretty sure my teammates would say they felt the same as well!  I was lucky and caught about an hour of sleep in the van as we drove from location to location.

I saw SR and Sarah bring in their legs, and Sarah KILLED hers, bringing in her last 7+ at 7:40 something pace.

At one of these exchanges, Chiara, Nicole, and I were walking around and ran into this super cute girl who exclaimed "Omg, it's So Much Cooler Online!".  I just stared at her, confused and disoriented.  So..if you are reading.. here is my apology for not being friendlier!  I swear we are not "So Much Bitchier In Real Life!"  =).

Soon enough, it was time for me to run again.  The weather was cool in the early morning hours of my leg, but I was in total survival mode.  I set off on my first leg...
While this elevation doesn't appear as devastating as the earlier legs, I assume you, I wanted to stab myself running this leg. I also wanted to stab myself running down the hills because at this point, my quads were done and running was very painful.  I barely even looked at my garmin, but 9:xx was the lowest I saw throughout this leg. 

At the exchange point, I saw Lisa and Mason cheering me on, and I stared at them like they'd killed a puppy.  I kept on wanting to cry, but I knew that would make it harder to run.

And then... a miracle occurred.  I ran into Dave who was spectating.  I spoke with him as I ran up Torrey Pines the hill and our conversion went something like this:

Me: "Dave!  Why do we do these dumb races?" 

Cheerful Dave comes up with some nice response

Me: "Dave!  How far am I on this hill?"

Cheerful Dave tells me I'm halfway and that I'm doing good

::I consider whether throwing myself off the hill is a good idea or a bad idea::


 Dave tells me people alway say that during situations like this. 

"Yeah but I'M SERIOUS!"

 Needless to say, it will be a small miracle if Dave actually agrees to be my friend after this display, but I am forever grateful to him for being so encouraging and putting up with my antics.  What a nice dude.

 After Torrey Pines hills, it was slightly downhill from there.  I tried booking it in as much as I could, and felt pure elation when I saw the exchange site.  I handed off to Chiara and was done!


As Chiara ran, and then Pam, and then Nicole, it was amazing to see them push through their legs.  We were all toast at this point, and Nicole was battling an injury.  It was extremely humbling for all of us to see the slower paces than we're used to, but somehow awesome as well.

When Nicole got to the finish, we ran the relay in with her.  Actually...I was unable to run at that point, so I flailed around trying to get to the finish.  Next, we slammed down some delicious beers, met up with some of our awesome 12 man team, packed up, and rode back up to So Cal. 


You guys.....WE WON THE WOMEN'S ULTRA DIVISION!!!  We also got second women's overall group.  God that feels sweet to type.  

It's hard for me to express how great of an experience this was.  I love all the girls that I spent time in the van with and we had so much support.  To sum it up:

That was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever done, but I can't wait to do it all over again.

As you know, we had a billion wonderful sponsors for our relay. It's always tough to balance giving sponsors credit without making the user experience bad for readers.   One of my best friends, Christina told me our Twitter handle was "One Big Commercial", which kind of made me laugh.  If you felt the same as her, sorry about that.

I'm going to review all of the products (and some others that I've gotten lately) in another post. But until then, a big thank you to:

Please check out some other blogs of my teammates (both ultra and 12 man).

Sarah   Once Upon a (L)ime
SarahSR   SkinnyRunner
Chacha   Chasing Imperfection
Nicole   Haute Running Mama  
Heather   365 Days of Awesome
Elisabeth   Running at the Speed of Me
Shannon  Hungry Gazelle
Sandy  BIC Bands
Becka   50 Half Marathons in 50 States
Madison   I’d Rather Be Eating
Danica   Girls That Run
Pam FineWineTakesTime 
Erica  Cajun Runner
Ashley   PrettyFittie
Linzay   Broke Runner  

Friday, April 20, 2012

So Much Cooler When You Work Harder?

Today, I'm running a Ragnar Ultra Relay with 5 of my best internet friends, and 12 more of my internet friends on the other So Much Cooler Online team.

Let's just say I don't have the exact science packing methodology that some of my friends on the team do.  My process is "dump in pile and deal with it later".

I'm sorry, y'all...planning is just not my thing.

In the spirit of "So Much Cooler Online", our 12 man team is dressed up as nerds.  The Ultra Team I'm on with Sarah, Sarah, Chiara, Pam, and Nicole isn't dressing up.  But I got a new computer (well, a "new to me" computer) and it runs on Linux. 
So I don't need a damn costume, I'd like to proudly say that I've got that nerd stuff covered!

If you want more details on our relay, check out some of my teammates' blogs! 

Main Post: Talent Versus Effort

Long distance running, like most things, is a weird animal.  Sometimes people are amazingly fast from the get-go.  I remember one of my high school teammates was running sub 5 minute 1600m races her Freshman year by her second track season.  While I have no doubt she was a hard worker, there's no doubt in my mind that her great genetics played a part in her performances. 

And some people keep making steady progress, like my high school friend Boriana (who I hope doesn't mind me writing about her, is that creepy?), who was always a talented runner, but has made enormous strides as an adult running sub-40 10ks and the like.   Her hard work has definitely paid off.
I see this progress a lot in the blogging world as well, especially among marathon running bloggers who slowly but surely subtract a few minutes almost every time they run a marathon.

(I would put Desi Davila into this category.  Even though she was a standout in high school, she wasn't a buzz generator.  But gradually, she's become someone who is important on the international marathon scene. Pretty cool.)
And then there are people who improve, but at a very slow rate.  People who put in the miles every day, do the workouts, but will likely never be front of the pack runners.  These are the people that I tend to have the most respect for.  It's easy to be dedicated when you're PRing and getting cheers for being fast.  When people are yelling at you that you're winning the race.  Not so easy when you're giving it your all and still not seeing the improvement or results you want.   I'd say that every body responds differently to training as well.  For me, I'm still figuring things out, but I know that when training starts mentally stressing me out, my physical performance suffers.

I think something that often gets lost in the blogging world, is that while hard work pays off, we forget to give credit to our genetics.   I know that I can run a sub 4 marathon on pretty much zero training, and it's not because I'm more mentally strong than someone who runs a 5 hour marathon.  And it doesn't mean I care less than someone who can easily run a 3:15.

Granted to get to a certain point, you have to have a huge level of dedication.  I don't know any woman who can break 18 in the 5k, or 3:00 in a marathon without really trying.  Without putting in a high amount of miles, people will never get to a very high level of performance.  I assume this is because runners on the national stage have it all:  The genetics to run fast, and the drive to run even faster. 

What kind of runner do you think you are?  Do you feel like you are naturally fast?  Improving through a lot of work?  A total slacker? 

Ok...see you on the flip side of this relay =).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Motorcycles and a Race Director Interview!

I don't usually talk about what I do in day-to-day life on this blog because honestly, my life is made up of a whole lot of Excel spreadsheets, surfing the net, and watching Game of Thrones.  Not exactly fascinating material.  But this weekend, I actually did something worth talking about:

This weekend Anthony and I rented a Harley and drove up to Malibu.

It was amazing, terrifying, and tiring all at once.  Between me yelling things like "Please stay under 60!!" and "Isn't this where John Wayne died?!?!?!"  (I meant James Dean - and apparently he died in a car, not a motorcycle), it was actually a blast.  There are some roads up in Malibu that have some of the most beautiful views I've seen in a while.  And that pic in the lower-left?  It's some secret biker bar. Cool stuff.

While I'm not about to buy a hot pink bike and go joy riding anytime soon, it was a pretty cool experience.
Just don't tell my mom I did this.  It would not end well for this blogger. 

For the second part of this post, I wanted to post an interview with the director of Hot Chocolate San Diego  15k, Brandon Presern.   

Brandon did a pretty kick ass job directing an inaugural race and I thought it would be interesting to hear a little more behind the scenes information (And ask him about USATF certified distances.  Haha).  I'm sure Brandon had a ton of pressure to put on a flawless race, as Ram had definite issues in some previous races (DC).  Directing Hot Chocolate can't be easy because it attracts a lot of first-time racers and people who are looking for a elaborate experience - not just a no-frills race.

Ask A Race Director: Brandon Presern
How long have you been in the road racing industry?
I've been with Ram for two years.  Prior to that I spent 11 years working Operations and Logistics for the Chicago Marathon.

What do you do when you're not race directing?
I'm 35 and married to my wife Kristina.  We have two daughters and live in Illinois.  In my off time I like fly fishing, running, cooking and of course spending time with my family.

I am sure there are many challenges to putting on a large race that runners don't see.  What is something that is surprisingly difficult or complicated in putting on a race?
The most challenging part of organizing a large race is ensuring the runners safety.  Between road closures on the course and emergency medical communications there is a lot going on race morning.  In addition we're always watching the weather.  If it's too hot or too cold we have to engage our emergency extreme weather plan.

How did you decide on the course?  Will it stay the same next year?
Hopefully the course will remain very similar next year.  The course went through lots of revisions over the past year.  We try to minimize our impact on the local community when possible.  We certainly couldn't have come up with such a great course if it wasn't for the guidance and support of the SDPD Special Events Office.  They are great to work with and very patient.

I thought the on-course organization of aid stations, and clocks with mile marker was very good.  What sort of crazy logistics go into making that happen?
Aid stations take lots of planning and education.  We have a small team out on the course to the help the aid stations along but it really comes down to having hard working and dedicated volunteers.

One thing that runners often say (even with certified courses) is that courses were either long or short according to their Garmin.  Is this ever true?  How common is this in races? 
It happens at every race.  People take wide turns or their reception gets blocked by a buildings.  Gamins are great but they're aren't nearly as accurate as having the course USATF certified.

What is the most rewarding part about being a race director?
I like watching the runners reaction as they cross the finish line.  Some cross the 15K and keep running because they're training for a marathon and sometimes you see someone cross the 5k and they have a look of amazement like they can't believe they did it.

How much did you sleep in the days before the race?   :)
Never enough.....

Thank you Brandon!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rising to the Occasion

This post is a few things that don't deserve their own separate post, but I thought they were entertaining enough to combine.  Hope you agree!

Long Run = A-Ok
I had a decent long run for the first time of the history of the world!  What made this run special was that I ran miles 16-19 on the track in 20:52 (which was somewhat shocking for some reason), and that I was able to complete 22 without dying or having a completely ruined day afterwards.  I get that I'm supposed to be running miles at marathon pace, but there is something miserable about running at 7:40 pace that I can't take.  It's uncomfortable but still takes forever.  No thank you.

The funniest part of this run was stopping for water at mile 20.  After about ten seconds drinking at the water fountain, the 8 year old kid in line behind me said "Hey!  I'm thirsty too!".  Clearly he didn't see I was about to die.  His sympathy for women on long runs is clearly limited.  

I also ran the last few miles just in the lululemon "ta ta tamer" bra because it got blazing hot and I couldn't take wearing my long sleeve anymore.  This thing straight up looks like a bra, with clasps in back and cleavage in front.  Orange County, you're welcome for the free show.

Stuff Regarding Hood To Coast
If you are alive and read more than zero running blogs, you might have noticed that Nuun is calling for runners to apply to be on their Hood To Coast relay.  I did it last year and it rocked.  But after a lot of waffling I decided not to apply. It was partially for stupid reasons like fear of rejection and that I've been pretty swamped lately.  But a lot of my decision is because I am certain if I got a spot, I would be taking this experience from someone who would benefit more from it than me.  Also, I spent a lot of time peeing in the woods and falling asleep in fields last year, so I'm probably doing my potential teammates a favor.

When I applied last year for the relay, I'd written my sarcastic, very small blog for 2 months and probably had 5 readers.  And the guys/gals at Nuun took a chance on me.  They've been nothing but wonderful to me in the past year, and I'm really thankful.  And I am pretty addicted to their drink - which is probably half of why I can survive long runs without massive headaches these days.  So even though I'm not applying...Nuun, this bud's for you.  I know you'll pick an amazing team.

No Self-Respecting Greek Man Would Ever Want To Marry Me

I used to post recipes on this blog.  I stopped doing this because I realized I wasn't a good enough cook to be posting recipes for people and that most of my recipes weren't unique anyways.  But this weekend, I decided maybe I could post a recipe.   I attempted to make "Tsoureki", which is a Greek Easter bread.  I also thought it would be a good way for me to talk about being Greek, because if you've ever met anyone who is Greek, you'd know they want to bring it up at any half-relevant opportunity (see Tina Fey, Jennifer Aniston, John Stamos, etc.).

I started cooking at 10 pm Saturday night and I didn't notice that the recipe said that the bread needed at least 5 hours to rise.  I wasn't about to stay up until 3 AM so I stuck the dough in the fridge and went to sleep.

This morning, I pulled the bread out of the fridge and excitedly baked it.   "Now I am really in touch with my heritage!", I thought!  "I am a domestic goddess!"

Turns out, bread doesn't rise well in the fridge.  I took the loaf out of the oven, and it had the density of a football.  Definitely not delicious.

And then the wonderful irony of an Easter bread not rising hit me.

In that moment, the baking failure became one of the most fun failures I've had in a while.  I may not have a delicious bread, but at least my 6 hours in the kitchen gave me dorky Easter humor.

Better luck next time!  Maybe one of these days I'll become a respectable cook!  And then, the recipe section of the blog will populate. Until then, all you need to know is that Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies never fail to please.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Balancing running and, you know...life

(Apologies for the emo post below.  Just imagine you paid $15 to see an indie band play.  ::strum strum strum::)

Running is great, but training for something can be freaking time consuming.  I love it, but trying to get faster and train for longer distances has had it's downfall.  Training for Eugene has turned into "Margot and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad training cycle" and I have to admit I've been feeling very frustrated lately.  I've gone from looking forward to pounding out hard workouts to being ready to stab myself with a foam roller to avoid finishing up the training.

This is the time when I start questioning my priorities.  Everywhere I look, I see articles about "making time for a workout".  Inspirational pictures tell me that I'll never regret a workout.

But I have regretted workouts!  And not just because I didn't run them hard enough (although this is the most common reason).  A couple weeks back, I ran a 20 miler before work.  I did this because I was racing that weekend and I didn't want the 20 miler to interfere with the 15k race.

I woke up at 5 AM, ran for three hours (yup I get into work very late) and started my work day.  That morning, I felt like a bit of a badass to run that much while the world was still asleep.  But I quickly realized what I'd done was foolish.  I couldn't concentrate at work.  After about 2PM my morning run caught up to me, and I had to leave early with a splitting headache.  Later, when I explained to my roommate what happened, she shook her head and told me I was crazy for running 20 miles before work.  

And you know what?  I think she was right.  I guess this is why people always do long runs on weekends.  More time to run, and less productivity required.  But even weekends can be hard to make the time.  I don't know how some people do it!    We all have our own commitments, and one of mine is being in a long-distance relationship.  So on the weekends that I visit Anthony, I definitely tone down the workouts to avoid being a tired jerk the rest of the day.  But in marathon training peak weeks speak, that means 2-hour runs at a relatively easy pace.  Basically, I try to minimize the time running (funny, because that is still a LOT of running) without giving myself a workout hangover for the rest of the day.  I want to be fun and I want to be up for going out later in the day.  And I guess that's my priority.  (with that attitude, surprising I'm not elite, eh ;-))

Of course, some would argue that I should stop my complaining and suck it up, right?  After all, "someone busier than me is running right now." 

I say maybe that person needs to reevaluate their priorities.  If they are that busy, maybe going on a run wasn't the best idea.  We all need sleep and rest, and in a society that glorifies being "SO BUSY", sometimes going on a long run, or running a track workout isn't the best choice.   Maybe kicking it with the people you love is.  Or going to the grocery store.  

As someone who is not elite, and who doesn't have a career in running, but cares about it a lot, it's hard to perfectly define my priorities.  I would say that my job, my relationship, and my friends/family come first, but in reality, I don't always act that way.  And I do love running most of the time, but it's still just a hobby.  When I look back on how I spent my late twenties in a few years, I hope I don't regret how I spent my time.  I guess it's hard to know now, but I'm doing the best I can.    

(This is just me.  How do you balance being a runner (or whatever else you like to do) with your other commitments?)