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I am dedicating this blog to Brian Dutter, who has been after me for weeks to update my blog, like a tenacious terrier.  Usually he reminds me of this while nipping at my heels during a track workout.  Then he invariably charges past me to finish far ahead of me on every interval.

I apologize to friends who still check it every once in a while, because I am a fickle, mercurial blogger.  The reason is, as I confessed some time ago, I don’t really write blogs.  Drea writes blogs.  Very GOOD blogs.  I write essays, and it takes me far too long, so I put it off.  But here goes, Brian…

PROLOGUE

My last entry was after a disastrous race in April.  I had a bad cold, and I ran three races back-to-back:  Carlsbad 5K, Tough Enough, and the Chardonnay 10-miler.  Who promulgated the myth that runners are usually intelligent people? Predictably, I fell into a black hole that didn’t lighten up, so I took some time off from hard running.  Mike Swan, my coach, suggested I still do Saturday tempo runs with the group, so it wouldn’t be too painful to come back when I was ready.   It wasn’t painful at all to show up to track workouts at 6 a.m., warm up with the group, and then take off for an easy 10 miles…bye, guys! My body was deeply grateful, and I wasn’t resisting.

My comeback race was Semana Nautica.  I went into it thinking I was in 7:15 shape, and I ran…7:17 pace.  Not bad. Good enough, in fact, to earn mention in a USATF newsletter blog, because I had joined the Grand Prix for the Southern California division, and I came in 1st place (out of USATF members) with my age-graded score of 79.9%.  My final time, 1:07:48, wasn’t a PR by a long shot, and I am not satisfied with anything under 80% (now that I’m a “veteran” runner over 50, 80% is quite achievable because of the strange, convoluted math behind it, which eludes me), but it was respectable.  In fact, it was a fantastic race, as races go.  I went out a little slow, but picked it up and ran very consistently.  I really raced at the end, too, passing people and giving it some heart.

I started to feel good about running again.

McConnell’s was more of a challenge.  Anything under 15K is, for me, a “short” race.  My sister was visiting from Portland, and the whole fambly turned out to watch me dry heave at the end.  I finished in 43:45, waaaay over my stretch goal of 43:00, and just over my I-can-live-with-it goal of 43:30.  Still.  81+% on a 55-mile week…no complaining here.

NARRATIVE PROPER

I love Pier to Peak—a half marathon that starts at Stearns Wharf and finishes at 4000 feet—for very personal reasons.  This was my fifth foray into mountain madness. The first time I ran it—in 2001—I was in the middle of a divorce, and all that messy, complicated pain seemed to metamorphose into fuel for wicked running.  Apologies for the cliché, but it was cathartic.  I ran 2:12.

My plan was to run relaxed, have fun.  That lasted until my naturally competitive alter ego—let’s call her Magdalena—took over, and I decided to race.  Mike gave me a heart-rate range to shoot for, in three sections:  take it out at marathon-pace heart rate, run the bulk of the climb at half-marathon rate, and the last two miles, turn on the jets.

I laid out my clothing Saturday night.  If you hate girl trivia, skip the next part.

1.  Bumblebee colored bike top, given to me as gift by Marguerite Bianchi almost 10 years ago.  I wear it so I can carry a flask of Gu and water jiggle-free in the back pocket, and because it is comfortable, and because I love it.

2.  Running skirt.  Black.  The most comfortable running apparel I have ever worn in a grueling race.  Ask Amy Travis. I’ve worn it in three marathons.  No chafing, no bunching.

3.  Carlsbad 5K hat, purchased when I ran a fast time (for me) of 20:40 for the 5K.  Yellow and black.  This is getting ridiculously coordinated.

4.  Ah, well, why fight the fashion maven?  Yellow and black racing shoes, which I already owned, I want you to know.

At 6 a.m. Sunday morning, Mason Street was still remarkably uncrowded, and I whipped into a spot just 1 minute from the start.  Score!  At the Dolphin Fountain, runners, cyclists, race officials and police were all bathed in the romantic haze of dawn.  Camaraderie, greetings, warmth and fellowship.  The little plaza is abuzz with pre-race excitement.  But…the BATHROOM IS LOCKED!  OK, I’m giving away a secret here, I jog down to Sambo’s, where they always take me in.

Dawn at the Dolphin Fountain

Dawn at the Dolphin Fountain

Paula Waldman, Brian and I huddle.  What’s our plan?  Paula has similar heart-rate goals, and Brian wants to hold on, so we agree to stick together.  The gun sounds (actually, Jake Clinton yelling “GO!”), and we’re off.  We know we’re crazy, we know it’s going to be brutal, and we know we can’t run the tangents, but we are joyful.

Joe Howell—the incarnation of a non-coot, and always an inspiration to me—is running with his lovely daughter, Sarah, and I get an introduction.  I see Kevin Forever Young ahead, in a long-sleeved T. “Are you keeping that on the whole way?” Yep…of course.  Mr. Sunscreen.  He’s sensible, and he’ll probably outlive us all.  I pass mile one in 8:10.  Slow, but that’s OK.  Very fast girlz Mariann and Desa are starting out with 9’s, I heard.  I think I am running faster now, but mile two is 8:20, and my breathing isn’t good.  I only warmed up a mile, not enough for my exercise-induced asthma.  My pacing is always off when the breathing isn’t right.  Paula and Brian drift ahead, and I let them go…better to slow down and let the airways calm down, sort of like building a warmup into the race.

Turquoise Tuff Girl Paula

Turquoise Tuff Girl Paula

The Genial Grooms

The Genial Grooms

On mile 4, the first climb up Mountain Drive, I’m feeling better.  My heart rate is nowhere near the targets Mike gave me, but I’m working hard enough.  One young woman passes me.   She and I will trade places for  a few miles, and she will eventually surge ahead.  I hear some spousal chatter behind me, and it is Liz and David Groom, running couple extraordinaire.   We pace together for most of the race.  I keep Paula and Brian, in her turquoise matching duds and his red Tough Enough shirt, in sight, and manage to keep the distance between us from shrinking so much that I lose contact.  I send them mental boosts every now and then…go, Paula and Brian!  I also know Nichol is somewhere close behind, and since I am sandwiched in bright colors by bright people who are dumb enough to run this race, I am happy.

Nichol, aka 10-minute PR

Nichol, aka 10-minute PR

Five miles in, I look ahead and see Kathy Calhoun, a colleague from DP.  “Go Mags!” she yells, and we high five.  She will appear like a blessed mirage several more times during the race, encouraging me with her huge smile and gargantuan good nature.

LEFT two three four...

LEFT two three four...

I get into a labored, panicky breathing pattern around the halfway mark.  Liz calms me down, talking me out of it, and I am grateful.  (I also know how annoying it is to pace with a loud “breather,” so I remember my running etiquette and suck it up.)  Dave is ahead a few beats, and checks in with us periodically.  Running with these two is a great comfort:  they’re consistent, cheerful and generous.  Liz has a very distinctive stride…solid, compact, powerful.  I try to emulate her and it keeps me focused.

The hairpin turn:  Tamara and Elda offer essential sustenance: water and mojo.  They look so cool and refreshing. Thanks, ladies!

My heart rate is stubbornly low, around 155 max.  The target was 165 on the climb…ain’t happ’nin’.  I can’t seem to move the legs fast enough to tax my cardiovascular system.  I punch in the mile splits on my Garmin, but purposely ignore cumulative time.  I’m having a ball, and I jettison any thoughts of a PR. Magdalena, get off my back. Lighter load, now.

Humor ahead:  hand painted signs offer ice for sale, 5 cents, correct change only.  The beneficent couple handing out ice and ice cold water bottles turns out to be dear Jack and Marguerite Bianchi.  I am so moved by the generosity of all these people out on the course:  friends, colleagues, strangers, all in a friendly conspiracy to haul our butts up this mountain. “Look!” I gasp between gulps of water and air, “I’m wearing that bike top you gave me years ago!”  Synchronicity rocks.

Where the *@%$! is Flores Flats?  The road is deceptive here, and it seems just around every corner.  The exaggerated camber is getting to my right piriformis, and I am forced to stop and stretch every so often.  It isn’t too bad, though, and I know I can run through it.  Liz and Dave get a little further away with every stop, so I try to gut it out as long as I can between stretches.  Ow!

Flores Flats at last.  Now, this area is just plain weird.  The shanties and abandoned cars are a throwback to the era of communes and Sunburst, with hints of Southern Oregon.  A rooster crows for us, reminding me that, unbelievably, it is still morning.  We enjoy the respite, knowing the steepest section is just ahead.

Hallelujah, though, the road has been repaved!  It used to be the steepest incline and the most precarious footing on the course, with deep potholes and chunks of asphalt littering the road.  Now smooth, but still unspeakably steep.  I look up, and see a big smile beaming me up the hill.  William Bermant, Melissa Marsted’s son (and my current 9th grade student) is holding out a Cliff Block for me:  “Go, Ms.Mason!”  And a half mile up, Brooke & Co., like angels of mercy, are handing out frozen grapes and moist towelettes.  This is getting deluxe.  I’m feeling downright spoiled.

The Red Devil

The Red Devil

I can still see a spot of turquoise (Paula) and a dab of red (Brian) up ahead, and Liz and Dave are a few beats in front of me, Nichol not far behind.  I hang onto the imaginary rope connecting us all, and try to ignore my barking piriformis.  We arrive at the intersection of the spur on Camino Cielo, added in recent years.  I’ve never run it, and don’t know what to expect.  About 100 meters up, a car comes down the road, with people inside yelling, “You’re going the wrong way!  Turn around!”  WTF?  I linger for a moment, unsure what to do, then Turquoise Paula lopes down the hill, yelling go on, the turnaround is just ahead.  It is, but it’s clear why there was confusion.  The road isn’t marked at all, the cones are off to the side, and no one is officially stationed there, but a kind cyclist confirms this is indeed the turnaround.  A relatively painless diversion for me, but disappointing, it turns out, for others.  I later find out that one member of our training group was targeting a 1:45 finish, and was within reach, until he ran an extra mile.  This, after training for months…heartbreaking.

Now, the fun part:  wheeeeeeee!  Downhill for almost a mile!  A chance to catch up, remind my legs they still have life in them, and pass a few folks.  I motion them forward:  “Come on!  This is IT!”  Now starts the uphill grind, a steep mile and a half to the finish.  I am reminded of Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending, a seminal work on chronos in literature and the way we experience time.  Our need for organized time, a beginning and an end, tick-tock, leads us to bend our fictions into false paradigms, leading to false comfort.

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending

But, I think, in a race, our sense of apocalypse—the end is near—leads to tangible purpose in terms of real arm-swinging, lung-heaving drive.  I want to share this with the several young men I pass in the last half mile, but I can’t talk, and they’d think I was crazy anyway.

I get to the final turn, and the whoops and cheers I hear above energize me for the last evil uphill climb.  Apparently it energizes a young man I had passed, too, because he whips up behind and passes me just before the finish.  Dang!  I’m always passed in the final stretch by testosterone on legs half my age.

Mountain Mavens

Mountain Mavens

I haven’t looked at my time the entire climb, and I’m surprised to see 2:17 on the clock.  Not bad!  If I subtract the time it took me to run the spur, I came within two minutes of my best time.  Paula (2:15) and I exchange sweaty hugs, and I go find Dave (2:16) and Liz (2:17) to spread around some more sticky fellowship, and then Brian (2:15).  Nichol comes in at 2:20, so we were all within 5 minutes of each other.

Picture 026

Epilogue

My legs are just a bit sore, and every time I gaze up to the distant peak far above, it seems impossible we actually propelled ourselves up to it on our own legs, with a little help from electolytes and water, and a LOT of love from the volunteers.  Thanks to all who make this such a special race.  And to those of you who actually read this far, you get an A+ for essay endurance!

Next up:  Education 4-miler, September 20th.  Which I’m hoping will seem easy after yesterday. Magdalena, where are you?

***All SB Pix photos used with permission***

Ten Junk Miles

The 10-miler has been a favorite race of mine for several years.  

  • 1.) it’s a distance that suits me;
  • 2.) it has a symmetry to it that I appreciate–out and back, even numbers, mile pace always equal to finishing time (i.e., if you run a 7.5 minute mile pace, you finish in 75 minutes);
  • 3.) it has enough flat and enough hill to make it an honest but fun race; and
  • 4.) the train is always a crapshoot, which I find humorous.

Today, I wasn’t expecting to race, because I was targeting a 10K in Irvine on May 3rd. Consequently, really racing this one was off the table if I wanted to perform all-out in two weeks. But the cold that snuck up on me before Carlsbad and hung on, an annoying petty tyrant, wouldn’t let go.  

I’ve been under the weather (What does that mean?  Beneath a cloud cover?  Suffocating in some netherland purgatory, below the real world with real weather, where normal people breath freely?) for too many days to count, and reluctantly made the decision to bail on the Irvine race.  I know many of you have had to make similar choices, and it’s hard.  You train for months, you have the hotel all lined up, you have visions of PR’s dancing in your head, you even dream about racing, for Pete’s sake…but to travel all that way for a sub-par performance just seems futile.  

Jenny the Marathoner

Jenny the Marathoner

 

BUT…to travel all that way to boost a friend in a marathon?  Now that sounds feasible.  Jenny Mintz is running the OC Marathon, which falls on the same day as the Irvine 10K, so Kim and I might just tootle down and use that hotel room after all, to cheer for our teammate.

Back to the 10-miler.  The original plan was to run it as a tempo, warming up the first half with 8-8:30 minute miles, and bringing it down to 7’s by the end.  I figured that would bring me in somewhere between 1:16 and 1:17.  But I jettisoned that scheme.  Since I’m not going to race Irvine, I might as well give it what I’ve got, right? 

Goodbye, my friends

Goodbye, my friends

We line up, and I spend a few minutes admiring the abs of three studettes:  Sara Mandes, Laura Turner and Desa Mandarino.  I start out with Kim B. (aka Kmonkee) and Gary Maxwell.  We decide to shoot for 7:20’s.  We hit the 1st mile in 7:15, and they keep up the pace while I purposely slow a bit. Michelle Greer comes by for a little chat.  She’d planned to pace off me for 7:20’s, but I tell her not to count on it, and she moves ahead.  I don’t know why, the the 2nd mile in this race is always maddeningly slower than perceived effort, and I hit it in 7:29.  OK, still within range. 

During the next two miles everything catches up with me:  Carlsbad, Tough Enough, my lingering cold.  I learned a new word last week:  “rales.”  I was out running with two doctors who told me that’s the name for the crackling noise in your lungs that sounds like Rice Krispies when you breathe.  (Lest you think I’m a glutton for punishment, they also told me it was OK to run through a chest cold, as long as I didn’t push too hard.)  Mile three,  7:36.  I clock mile 4, cemetery hill, at 7:39.  Mile 5 (no train!), which is a slight but steady uphill, 7:48, and 6, back down, in a mediocre 7:37.

10miler

Glug, chug, tug

 

This race is not going according to either Plan A or Plan B.  It is merely some vaguely fast “in between” running, faster than my easy pace but not really a tempo.  I think I read somewhere that it is exactly this kind of running that doesn’t really hit any systems for improvement.  What am I doing?  Mile seven I slow down to a walk up the Ty Warner hill.  A WALK, in the middle of a race!  A first for me.  The lovely and gracious Elda Rudd stops and walks a few beats with me, just to ascertain I am not going to pass out (she saw me weave a little before stopping).  No, I’m not hitting the floor, I’m just…well, I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m certainly not racing.  I’m just out bumbling around on a beautiful day with a race number pinned to my shirt.  Amr El Abbadi, whose two wonderful children have been my students, passes me, shouting encouragement.  I pick it up…no miles over 8:00 for me!  I punch in mile 7 at 7:56, just under the wire.  

I feel a little better during the long cool segment by the wall across from the bird refuge, and I see abundant grey locks ahead, a strikingly beautiful woman in yellow whom I think is in my age group.  This gives me some focus, and I pick it up a little.  Mile 8, 7:40.  I catch and pass her on the long hard stretch of concrete in mile 9, and we exchange encouragement and names.  

Marla, my muse

Beautiful Marla

She is Marla, and now I know she IS in my age group.  She beat me at Pier to Peak a few years back, and she is one tuff runner.  I am galvanized, and hit the 9-mile mark in 7:27.  The last mile I’m hanging on, and Gary Miliken, who always seems to pass me in the last mile of every race, cheerfully obliges again this time.  Kent Harris jumps in just after the breakwater kiosk, urging me on.  I don’t have it, Kent, sorry.  “But you can’t let that person behind you catch you!”  he teases.  OK, OK, I do have it, and I give it the old arm-swinging, air-sucking last-200-meter fight.  

I finish in 1:15:51, nine seconds under my projected time, and 5+ minutes over what I usually run for this race.  I think I’d have been better off with Plan A (lesson:  stick to the plan!), but I won a very cool Nike bag, a pair of great trail socks, some Tri-Berry Gu, and a pretty turqoise hat.  

Irvine is definitely out, but I might try to regroup in time for the Mother’s Day 10K.  See y’all out there!

Jim Kornell, Tough Director

Jim Kornell, Tough Director

“There are only two rules for this race that are non-negotiable,” announces Jim Kornell, race director, “be safe, and have fun.”

He shouts, “Go!” and we’re off!  Travis Bower, our secret weapon, runs the first leg of our trek up and over the mountains.  Destination:  Nojoqui Falls Park in Solvang, 100K (65 miles) of agony and ecstasy away.  Our team is comprised of an eclectic group of Dos Pueblos High School teachers:  Leslie Wiggins-Roth, math teacher, X-country and track coach extraordinaire; the right-and-left brain Gleason brothers, Kevin (art) and Ryan (science); Travis, math; and moi, English teacher.

The Peregrinating Pedagogists

The Peregrinating Pedagogists

Leslie has unearthed some ancient DP singlets for us, no matter that they’re all-girl apparel…we’re blue and gold and unafraid to commit fashion crimes for our cause!  Our name, the “Peregrinating Pedagogists,” was our first team building effort, and one might consider this a linguistic crime as well, IF one didn’t already know the definition of “peregrinate,” which means “to travel by foot,” or “pedagogist,” which means “one practiced in the art of teaching.”

I filled my purse!

I filled my purse!

Travis runs the first leg , from Toro Canyon Park up to the Cold Springs trailhead, in a very respectable third place, right on pace according to the logistical flow chart that I, a left-brain-challenged person, created for our team.  I’ve driven the Travismobile up to the handoff with Ryan, and as we  peregrinate up to the creek, we encounter serendipity in the form of Marguerite Bianchi, a much-loved retired colleague, who boosts us with hugs and encouragement.   I’m targeting a race in three weeks, so I’m not supposed to race Tough Enough all out.  When Travis tags me and I take off, though, the 7:20’s I’m running FEEL all out.  I’m convinced that paces are like purses:  you fill up what you have, no more, no less.  If Mike had told me to run 7’s, I’d have felt that was all I had.  I’m passed by a man in a hula skirt, the “Thrash Polka” team.  For the first time, I understand what it’s like to be “chicked” on a run.

"I prefer mountains with my breakfast, thanks"

"I prefer mountains with my breakfast, thanks"

Ryan zooms off on leg 3, from El Cielito six miles straight up Gibraltar to the sky, East Camino Cielo.  This was supposed to be my leg, but in a planning meeting, Ryan had been so sad to lose the uphill portion of leg 2, I felt obliged to trade.  Hmmm….I can run 5 miles across Mountain Drive instead of 6 miles straight uphill?  Let me ponder it for a nanosecond:  OKAY!  Ryan throws it into overdrive, passing the hula polka thrashers, and the race is on!

"I eat mountains as an appetizer"

"I eat mountains as an appetizer"

 

 

 

 

On our way up in Leslie’s Forerunner, we pass Drea, who may appear a diminutive, elegant little deer, but is in reality the mountain lion everyone keeps siting throughout our California foothills…watch out, because she’s carnivorous!

Coach Wiggins on a roll!

Coach Wiggins on a roll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan hands off to Leslie with panache, considering he’s just covered an elevation gain of about 2500 feet.  Our lovely coach takes off, hair and feet flying.  We pass her and she’s hauling. Downhill is her thang!  So much so, that 20 minutes into her run, she becomes one with gravity and the pavement.

The red badge of courage

The red badge


 

 

 

Undaunted, this toughest of teachers picks herself up, shakes out her legs (leaving some artistry on the ashphalt, indeed), and tears down to the handoff, where she cheerfully self-administers first aid, cleaning wounds and icing her ankle.

Helios in Chrome Yellow

Helios on Leg 5, in Chrome Yellow

Kevin picks up the torch, descending the two miles from Painted Cave to 154 and across, dropping down Kinevan Road and climbing up to the gun club, where pavement ends, and I begin leg 6,  the long grind up to Broadcast Peak, “Third hill, Maggie!”

My second leg is deceitful, beginning with a precipitous drop of over a mile, lulling me into thinking I am fast.  I am not fast, as my trail shoes remind me as we begin the gradual, relentless, and inevitably slow climb up to the peak.  I initially curse my clodhoppers, but am ultimately grateful for them, as the road becomes more technical.  I am passed by a very fit looking Lee Carter, then the mountain-eater Drea, who slaps my heinie on her maddeningly limber lope up the mountainside, and finally by another hula man!  I slow from 8 minute miles to 11 minute slogs, stopping to walk as my psoas muscles tighten.  Stupidly, I didn’t carry water (“I don’t think I’ll need it…it’s cool enough”), and I gratefully accept bottles from Joe Hilton, Polka Thrashers, and Argentinians, who assure me I look better than they did last year:  “I was crawling at this point, and you are still on your feet!”  Still, I am humbled, not only by the elevation but the beauty.  This is the most glorious leg, with the Pacific sparkling on one side of the saddle, Cachuma gleaming on the other.  I think I am delusional, because I see a mirage of Ryan up ahead, when I still have over a mile to go.  But…no, I had mistakenly hit a lap button, and I’m finished!  I throw myself up the final few feet, slap his hand weakly, and collapse into a water bottle full of chocolate Endurox.

Bonding and bounding to the finish line

Bonding and bounding to the finish line

Ryan flies down leg 7 to Refugio, Leslie, with leg taped and looking amazingly strong, continues the downhill train to the bridge, and Kevin takes off, ready for a fast 10K through Solvang to Alisal Ranch, where Travis, back from his NAP, SHOWER and LEISURELY MIDDAY MEAL, meets us for the final leg.  We’re no match for the Muffins, who will go on to set a course record, but we do catch the final hula Polka Thrasher and turn in a respectable 7th overall out of 27 teams, 3rd mixed, at 8 hours and 23 minutes.

While dining on animal crackers, pretzels and beer, we pat ourselves on the back for a day well-spent, and cheer for our other DP team, the Tuff Chargin’ Teachers (Scott, Lori, Roland, Dan, Joe, Larry, Estella and Todd G.).  We toast our heroine of the day, Wiggins, who showed her mettle in the mountains.  Thanks to Jim Kornell and Cooper Atkinson, for another successful grassroots, genuinely fun event.

PereGRINating!

PereGRINating!

Almost No-Go

I’m writing this from home today.  I took the day off.  You see, while Tamara, Drea and I were having a fabulous time on our pilgrimage to Carlsbad (lots of girlfr’en talk on the way down, delighted with our plushy hotel room, great meal with a wry waiter at a nice Italian joint), the evil viruses were having their own road trip down my bronchial tubes.  By Saturday night, the others were exchanging knowing, pitying glances behind my back, eyes saying, “She’s really getting sick.”  It turns out the running gods weren’t pawing me, they were pounding me.

I hardly slept, because I took the fold-out bed, and if you can find one fold-out in existence that isn’t lumpy, I want to know exactly where and when you slept on it, and under what influences.  Tamara and Drea, bless their hearts, insisted I share their comfy kings, but no way in hell was I going to keep them up all night or risk infecting them.  Besides, my race was dog’s meat anyway, so what did it matter if my cat-nap was kidnapped? 

On the warmup, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty, and was on the verge of not toeing the line until I ran into the Brennands about 20 minutes before the gun.  John had a cold, too, and HE raced.  He did really well, too, taking 3rd in his AG at 22:30. Taking my cue from the Godfather of the SBAA, I went for it.  

First mile, mostly downhill, 6:47.  Not good.  At the turnaround I see my nemesis, the woman who beat me by 3 seconds for 3rd place last time I ran.  She’s way ahead, uncatchable in my condition.  Dang.  Goodbye, delusions of grandeur.  I decide if I can’t run under 7:00 the next mile (which is a long, relentless incline), I’m jogging to the finish.  7:03.  Heck, it’s only one more mile, let’s see what I can do.

Warning:  mixed metaphors ahead.

The last mile is tricky:  it’s mostly downhill, but there’s a short, brutish quarter-mile mountain at the halfway point, the Carlsbad “heartbeak hill,” then it’s a slide to the finish.  On our course cruise the day before we had picked out a bright blue building, just at the zenith, as the focal point for pain–get to the blue house, just get to the blinkin’ blue house–and I locked it into my race brain, which is always pea-sized by this point, and charged.  If I couldn’t run the race I had trained for and was capable of, I could bloody well take no prisoners along the way.  I passed one, then two women on the way up.  Blue house, blue house.  Then, the final turn!  I hear “GO MAGGIE GO GIRL!!!!!!” and can’t look but know it’s Drea and Tamara, and energized, get hungry for another body, I’ve tasted blood and must kill again (said in Bela Lugosi voice), and I take down another victim on the home stretch!  Yessss!!!

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I don’t care what my time is because I blew this race before the gun went off, but it turns out not so bad considering, 21:43, a minute over what I wanted and my slowest 5K in 4 years, but good for 10th in my AG, I’ll take it.  

 

 

Drea and Tamara, who woke up early and drove with me to the old-lady early start, greet me at the finish, and then have to stand around in the increasingly hot sun until their own race starts two hours later.  I feel for them as the pavement starts heating up.  We watch Ricky run a very strong 17:15, and then it’s time for the prime-time girls, 30-39.  Drea guts out a difficult race in 18:36 and still manages 10th overall, Tamara rockets to the finish with a fat PR (damn, can she kick) of 23:54, both of these girls have grit and I’m proud to be on their team.  (Visuals and more detail on Drea’s race here.)  

Drea and Ricky take off on their cool-down, and I’m in charge of managing Tamara’s well-earned post-race giddies, which threaten to lift Carlsbad off the map with pure, glowing elation.  She can’t stop smiling and it’s infectious, and I bask in her high-beams.  We find Kim’s “beau” Rick, and together we give Kim a proper send-off.  The young-uns mixed-gender race is delayed, though, and with every minute the temp goes up a degree, it seems.  Finally they’re off, and we scream for Micah, who is around 7th or 8th.  Kim passes the railroad tracks (quarter mile) right on pace, and we navigate the crowd for a good viewing spot.  As races go, this one is a premier spectating event, because you can view your racer three times from roughly the same spot.  

Here comes the motorcade and hurrah!  The leader is Micah!  We scream ourselves silly then, and again when Kim goes by—she’s slowed a little on the second mile, but still looks strong—and again when Michah charges up the hill with a huge lead, and again when we hear his finish time announced, 14:42, and again when Kim makes her final turn.   Her mouth is contorted with purposeful pain and she knows she’ll come in close to her goal and she does, at 20:40.  More giddy-ups float us for a while, and watching the beautiful elites blister by is well worth standing around in the by-now blistering sun, but by 1 p.m. we’re crashing, and it’s time to journey home.

Highlights of the weekend:

  • Watching lovely Drea perform her pre-race ritual in her pj’s
  • Glimpsing a flash of Sylvia Mosqueda, tough woman, on the first leg, as she led our race (and won)
  • Hearing Tamara’s colorful account of how she was NOT going to let that F*ing girl catch her, oh NO
  • Watching this 14-year-old kid kicking heinie while the older male runners around him urge him on
  • Hearing Rick ask, “Does this look OK?”, referring to the “girly bag” Kim made him mule around for her
  • Seeing Rusty’s beautiful SBIM postcards adorn cars all over Carlsbad
  • Watching the elite men and women fight to the finish…zoweeee!
  • Analyzing our races in detail on the drive home, which seemed like it took one instead of four hours 

 Next up:  Tough Enough, where the Carlsbad 5 (Me, Drea, Tamara, Kim & Ricky) will meet again, this time as competitors!

Mojo, or Slo-Mo?

“You grab Mo, and I’ll grab Jo,” quipped Patty to Paulette and Gail on the “girlfriend run” Sunday.   I had just been accused of pushing the pace a tad too much, and responded by gleefully proclaiming that I had finally got my mojo back.  

Girlfriend runs are not supposed to be fast.  They are to be run at a pace leisurely enough to facilitate easy chatter, so we can all catch up with each other’s triumphs, disappointments, new shopping finds, and shhh….gossip.  Not the bad kind, the harmless fun kind.  Were your ears burning on Sunday?

But this day, I was energized.  I was back, and I felt like a penned filly just given free rein.  Two weeks prior, Rusty had us run a 1.5 mile time trial.  There’s no polite way to say this:  I sucked.  After a good strong period of building for the upcoming Carlsbad 5000 and a target 10K in May (Irvine…anyone want to come with?) and one of my best-ever track workouts, I’d fallen into a hole.  A nasty hole.  The work-stress, not-sleeping-well, I’m-tired-all-the-time, crabby-sucky-run kind of hole.  Plus, I caught a cold.  Duh.

I was supposed to run all out the first mile and try to hold it another 440 yards, and all I could manage was a pedestrian 6:55 pace.  True, it was on the dreaded “Rusty’s Loop,” our moniker for a rather tough little course he’s marked out that can whoop you when you’re down and hook you when you’re up.  But 6:55? For a measly 1.5 miles? Pah!  Even slower than my 10K in-shape pace.  Bleah.  Yuck.  Grrrr.  Drea’s TT did not go well, either, and Rusty spent the next 10 minutes exhorting us not to beat ourselves up.  “Work stress always does this to you,” he reminded me.  “You’ll come back.”

It always seems like a miracle, but I did.  After  a few more disappointing workouts, things started to pick up.  On Saturday, I had a much more successful 2-mile time trial on Mountain Drive.  After she ran her own very impressive 2-miler, Drea ran two beats behind me (one person’s cooldown is another’s time trial), a perfect shadow rocket-booster.  It’s odd, but I loathe having someone run right next to me when I feel like squat, trying to be helpful by urging me on:  “Come on!  You can do it!”  I always have to stifle the urge to scream obscenities at them, sort of like what I’ve heard women in labor do to their feckless, well-meaning husbands.  Somehow, Drea intuited this, and ran smoothly just behind me, whooshing me along silently, with just a few well-chosen nudges:  “You’re gaining on Kim, see if you can catch her,” and “Just one more little uphill, then down all the way.”  I punched in at 6:40 the first mile, and 6:45 at the finish.  Not my best ever, but Atalanta compared to the last one.  And no, I didn’t kill any suitors on Mountain Drive.

Tuesday track, we were to run a mile all out.  I was nervous.  Kim was doing a 2K, so I was on my own.  My best track mile ever was 6:24, run shortly before my PR marathon.  Rusty told me not to look at my watch, just run as hard as I could for a mile and he would call my splits.  He wouldn’t give me a target time.  I was thinking, 6:30 would be nice, and Kim later told me that’s what Rusty wanted to see.  “OK, ready?”  Breathe.  “Ready.”  My first lap felt conservative, but 93?  No way to hold that pace.  “3:10!” he shouts the second lap.  Third lap, third lap, always the one that gets me…4:49, dang.  Turn it on, it’s only a quarter, don’t worry about the wheezing, remember the woman you passed at Carlsbad  who caught you and you let her go, legs are burning but that’s good, cheat and peek at my watch 6:02 with 100 meters to go, I can get under 6:30 for sure…6:25!

Rusty said 6:40’s were a realistic goal for Carlsbad on Sunday.  I was stoked.  Probably a little too stoked for the running gods, who don’t like it when you get too hubrissy, so they smote me with another cold that very evening.  I think they’re just pawing me, though, because it doesn’t seem very serious.  

I guess I’ll find out Sunday what it’ll be:  mojo or slo-mo?  Don’t tell the running gods, but if I can better my time of two years ago—20:44—I’m going to call it Flo-Jo.

Although I’d had a few times in my adult life when I gained an uncomfortable amount of weight–perhaps 10 to 15 pounds, which I quickly lost—I was never even close to being grossly overweight until I reached my late thirties. 

For about five years, from age 35 to 40, I underwent extensive infertility treatment.  I never got a baby, but I did get fat.  The combination of strong drugs, lack of exercise, and depression resulted in a weight gain of over 45 pounds, from a trim 120 to a peak of 168!  I hated my body, because it had let me down in so many ways.  I ate for comfort; food was almost my sole form of physical pleasure.   I had been a casual runner for years, for fitness and health, but my doctor advised me to stop all strenuous aerobic exercise during my treatment period, for fear I would jar any tenuous development of a blastocyst or an embryo. 

When I reached 40, we decided to stop treatments.  My then-husband threw me a surprise birthday party, and the photos of that milestone were shocking.  “Who is that fat woman?” I asked myself, with the horrifying realization that it was ME.

I set up an appointment with my doctor to discuss weight-loss strategies.  Knowing how motivated I was, he suggested I bike to work every day.  EVERY DAY?  OK, I’m game.  Whatever it takes.   

During the first four months, I lost over 30 pounds.  I was obsessive.  I commuted to work by bicycle every day, riding 10 hours and over 125 miles a week and limiting my calorie intake to 1300 a day.  I refused to take a day off, even when we were besieged by two weeks of Santa Ana winds and 90+ degree temperatures.  As a result, I severely strained my knees and couldn’t even walk.  My doctor suggested I change my activity to give my knees a break from the repetitive circular motion that had injured them.  He suggested running.

I wasn’t savvy enough then to realize that running burns more calories than biking.  I thought I had to run the same number of hours I’d cycled. So, in order to sustain the same aerobic and calorie-burning volume as I had while biking, I thought I had to run far.  I mean, very far. Like, 8-10 miles a day, five times a week, at least.  So I did. 

I LOVED it.  I had finally found my sport.  After a few months of doing what I thought then was an insane amount of mileage (40-50 miles per week), I said to myself, “I bet I could run a marathon.”  So I did. 

That was ten years ago.  Since then, I’ve run 15 marathons and countless shorter races.  Last year, at age 50, I ran my personal best marathon time of 3 hours, 16 minutes.  This year I was 22 seconds shy of my PR, and a year older.  I love being strong and fit as an “older” woman.  If this is cronedom, bring it on.

My relationship with food has changed dramatically since the old, sad days of eating two Egg McMuffins (with hash browns!) to fill a void in my spirit and soul.  Now, I see food as pleasure AND fuel.  I never eat for consolation; instead, I’ll run, bike or take a walk as a stress reliever.  I’ve managed to keep my weight off for over 10 years, mostly through strenuous exercise and monitoring my calorie intake.  People think I can eat anything I want because I run 50-60 miles a week.  Not true.  As my mileage increases, so does my appetite, (and genuine need for calories), and I still have to watch my intake.  If I’m not careful, I’ll gain a few pounds over a holiday break or vacation.  I’m very disciplined about taking it off, because extra weight can obliterate a competitive edge.

I’ve gone the other way, too—losing too much weight during the emotional stress of my divorce.  I got faster for a while when my solar plexus was sticking out and my face was gaunt, but had I sustained those unhealthy eating patterns—skipping breakfast and lunch, cramming down thin ham slices wrapped around cheese for dinner, just to get some food in me—I knew I’d crash.  Happily, the starvation period was temporary, I regained my emotional and physical balance, and I’m fitter and faster then ever.  Interestingly, at 121, I’m faster than I was at 116, which is what I (even still) consider my” ideal” weight.  Once you’ve been fat, the fear of corpulence never, ever leaves.

I hated the way the world treated me as a fat, middle-aged woman; it just doesn’t SEE you.  I loathed my fashionable but flowing clothes.  I detested feeling weak and unattractive instead of strong and sexy. Over ten years later, I am still driven by the memory of how awful it was—a powerful tool.   

Perhaps my case isn’t representative as a learning tool for most people, because my weight gain was anomalous.  I was a fit and healthy eater for most of my life, and then had a five-year diversion into sedentary habits and dysfunctional eating.  When I lost the weight, it was like a homecoming, and as such, probably much easier to achieve and maintain than for those who have never been fit.   But probably like most people who have lost significant body weight and maintained it, for me, the cost/benefit factor is paramount as a motivator.  Being fat was painfully dispiriting, physically uncomfortable.  Being fit and strong is empowering, inspiring, joyful.

I’ll never go back.

I can be an infuriatingly consistent runner.  In 2004, I ran two marathons within five months, and my finishing times were 22 seconds apart: 3:22:45 and 3:22:23.  If my husband Jeff is planning to watch me race, he always asks me what time—down to the second—I’m going to cross the line.  He’s only partially joking.  

On Sunday, I finished the California International Marathon in 3:17:15, crossing the mat 23 seconds slower than last year’s 3:16:52.  Essentially, I ran the same race, with one major difference:  this year, I toed the starting line with residual effects of two colds during training.  They piggybacked, and then hitchhiked for 26 miles.   The nerve.  

I came down with the first one in mid-October, and the cough “hung on like death” (apologies to Theodore Roethke) for six weeks.  I’ve had exercise-induced asthma since last season’s fires, and the condition was exacerbated by the cough.  When it finally resolved, I had a week of great running, and then Wham!  Another cold, 10 days before the marathon. This time it was minor, and as I wrote in a previous post, I nuked the hell out of it with a gazillion remedies.   By Saturday night, I hardly felt it. But ten miles into the marathon, it was clear I wasn’t running with a full tank.

On Sunday morning, Jill, Kim and I met in the lobby of the host hotel at 5:35.  We’d thought we’d have plenty of wiggle room, since the busses ran from 5 to 6 a.m., but apparently everyone else had the same idea:  The line snaked around the block, and barely shuffled along.  We didn’t board until well after 6, and arrived at the start with under 15 minutes to the gun.  We shoved into the crowd to get to the baggage trucks, and the sight was surreal.  Desperate runners were hurling bags into the trucks, sometimes missing, sometimes nailing the overwhelmed teenaged volunteers. One exuberant runner lobbed his bag on top of the truck.  It was chaos, and I urgently had to pee.  I peeled off my sweats, tucked into the crowd, said a mental goodbye and good luck to Jill and Kim, knowing I’d lose them, deposited my bag, and headed for the bushes.  No time for a warmup today, and the temp was 39 degrees.

Somehow, with seconds to spare, I managed to position myself near the start, crammed so tightly into the crowd I was warmed from the body heat. And then BANG!  We’re off.  It’s dark, and cold, and silent but for the sound of footfalls; strangely comforting, as Kim later pointed out.  It always amazes me no one gets trampled. Runners are so polite.

I hit the first mile in 7:32, a little fast considering the crowds.  Mile two is 7:26, still a little on the slow side, which is perfect.  Jill catches and passes me, looking very strong and smooth. By mile three at 7:19, I have cast off my throwaway top and hunkered down for the long haul.  (I never missed it, though the temps stayed in the 40’s the entire race.) Whoops!  Mile four is too fast at 7:15, and I purposely slow the next mile; 7:27.  I run a fairly even pace until the half, which I hit at exactly 1:37:30, according to my watch:  perfectly on pace for my goal time of 3:15:00.  

But as I cross the halfway mat, I know it isn’t going to happen.  I’m working too hard, and I know I can’t sustain it for another half marathon.  In reality, I knew by mile six I wasn’t going to make my goal, but I also knew I could come close.  In fact (cross my heart and hope to die; honest to god), at that point I knew I was going to come in around 3:17.  It’s amazing how specifically your body tells you what you’re capable of that day, if you’re fully tuned in.  

I knew the 3:15 pace group was near me, because I kept hearing people shout out for them.  “Go, three-fifteen!”  and “Looking strong, three-fifteen!”  I once made the mistake of running with my name on my bib (courtesy of the L.A. Marathon), and let me tell you, it’s annoying on a good day to have the crowd focus on you, and hell if you’re not feeling good.  I didn’t want to know where the 3:15 pace group was, so I purposely ran a little ahead of them  during the first half.  But after the half, I joined them for a few miles, because I needed the pull of the group.  Unfortunately, the pacer was uneven, mostly too slow, and so he had to pick it up the last 10K to finish under the wire.  I was running my own race so I didn’t care, but he dropped lots of folks when he pushed the pace to make up time.  I’m wary of pace groups, precisely because they tend to run unevenly.  I let them go, and ended up passing most of the women from the group in the last miles.

I held on to a 7:30-ish pace until mile 22.  (Better than last time, when I started bonking at 20!)  When I kicked over into 7:40+ territory, I brought it back down for a mile, but understood by mile 24 that a PR was beyond my capacity.  I was the “clown suit in slo-mo,” if you know what I mean.  When a young, fresh looking, bouncy blonde gazelled by me, I wanted to kill her.  “Relay,” quipped Jill, during our post-marathon blow-by-blow at lunch.  Of course.  

I found out a few days before the race that somebody within a few degrees of separation has an aggressive cancer that has metastasized.  I thought about him and his family during the last few miles, admiring their toughness and courage, understanding what a great gift we runners have, to be able to push our bodies and feel the discomfort of extreme physical effort.  

I’m thrilled with my finish time.  I essentially ran the same race one year later and one year older, with a training buildup that had more downs than ups.  I may not have had an optimal racing experience, but in terms of tenacity and focus, I think it was my best race to date.  As Rusty said in an email to us all before the race, “you are lucky to be as fit as you are and lucky to feel the pain…enjoy it, embrace it.”

So true.