Thursday, July 26, 2012

4th Korea Adventure Race

       When my running club posted the information for this race, I was mostly interested because I wanted to keep adding to my marathon tally. Running at night sounded like a pretty good idea in the summer heat, and the course was along the Han River where I have raced many times before. Mostly it was a marathon in July so I could check that box and start my “marathon per month” quest that I was contemplating at the time. It would be familiar territory with a new twist: night running. The course was also open from the start of the marathon at 8pm, through the start of the 50K at 11pm, and on until way past dawn with the planed closing time of 7am. A race with no time pressure sounded particularly nice when the low temperatures would be near 80F.

       Although I was tempted by the 50K, the decision was ultimately made based on the start time. I ran through the night 2 years ago in the 24-Hour relay so I knew the wee hours would be lonely and boring. I also know I’m fairly worthless after 9pm and would be counted among the walking dead once midnight passed. It seemed better to be nearing the end when the witching hour struck, and not just an hour into the race! The few member of the club that had decided to run, kept up a joking facebook thread about our fears of zombies and things that go bump in the dark, laughing at ourselves and our silly fears.

The sun setting on the Han River. You can see the bike and walking path and big street lights

       It turned out we were afraid for nothing. With night time temps not dipping much below 80F, people living in apartments without air-conditioning try to escape to the river for a breath of fresh air. The entire river walk was teaming with people the entire time! The whole way was well lit and overrun with families, young lovers, cyclists, picnickers, partiers, and sports enthusiast. One moment I would be passing a game of basketball, the next a family asleep in a screen tent. In most cases, the activity was set up under the many bridges that span the river, offering protection from the sudden cloud bursts, like the one that soaked us to the skin in the first few miles.

       There were three of us that toed the start line for the 42.195K (seriously, that is what our bibs said, LOL.) The other two women weren’t fully trained for marathon distance and had never gone past a half, but since the cut off time was so generous, they knew they could finish walking and get the experience under their belts. Cate, Rebecca, and I took off in high spirits, chatting and laughing as we headed down the lighted path. We lost Rebecca first as she slowly drifted behind, but we did see her shortly after the first turn around and she looked strong. (MAP)
Cate, Andy (who came to help us with packet pick-up), Rebecca, and Moi

       I realized after a couple of miles that we were on the same stretch of river front from the half marathon back in March. This meant one thing, a booger of a hill! That monster hill, loomed out of the dark leading us along the freeway with nothing but a chain link fence between us and the roaring traffic. Ultimately, the exhaust fumes weren’t too bad and we decided to walk the uphill and save our energy for the very long miles ahead. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but it still wasn’t pretty!
Okay, this is where we are going...

       Past the turn around and over the hill again we were looking for our first bridge crossing to take us to the other side of the river. Thankfully, I had studied the map because running had moved us faster than the race coordinators had expected and the volunteer that was supposed to direct us to the turn was not on station yet! When we had gone about 1/10 of a mile past the bridge, I knew we had missed something so we doubled back. Sure enough, he was there this time and shocked that we had gotten past him! Now, back on track, we climbed the stairs and crossed the first bridge.

       With 12 bridges, passing each twice, we were averaging about a bridge per mile. It was like chasing an oasis. The bridges would loom in the distance, seeming to never get closer and then suddenly we were passing under it. Most of the time they were hotbeds of activity, sports, family, and at one place even a live band with scores of people dancing! It was so surreal and not at all what I was expecting from the evening. I had imagined something like the Blair Witch Project and being spooked, but I never felt alone or isolated, even after I lost my buddy somewhere around mile 16. My biggest real worry was not getting hit by a speeding bicycle! Although I never really needed the head lamp to see my path I was glad for both my lights, front and back, for making me visible to the cyclists!

       What made this an “adventure” race was more than just the fact that it was run in the dark. The second aspect was that there were no aid stations. There were public restrooms and fountains where we could get water, although often they were too shallow to actually get water into my Camelbak. Never the less, I was able to refill often enough that I never ran out of water despite going through what seemed like gallons! When my calves started cramping a couple of hours in, despite 2 salt caps and 3 gels already down the hatch, I realized I was going through a LOT of fluids. Popping 2 more salt caps took care of the problem and even though I had twinges the whole race, my calves finally loosened back up and never fully cramped. The heat was not intense, but it just slowly sucked the life out of you as the sweat gushed from every pore.
The race map. I used my phone to take a picture
that was worth more than 1,000 words!

       Shortly after Cate dropped behind I started getting a headache and the gels were no longer setting well. I did not manage my prerace fuel very effectively and my digestive system was balking. I don’t think it was a hydration issues since a couple of bathroom stops assured me that all was well in that arena, but the late hour was getting to me. On a normal night, staying up late just plain hurts and tonight was no exception. I had tried taking a nap in the afternoon, but never really slept so as 11pm slipped by, I was really starting to drag. By midnight, I had barely hit the 20 mile mark! This was not good!

       Fortunately, I was almost to the second bridge wich was easy since it was over a smaller bridge underneath the big freeway bridge far overhead. Over the hump I trudged, dodging bicycles and people walking and texting at the same time. As I turned right to head down the river again, the park was as busy as ever. Spotting a water fountain with a spigot on the side I jumped at the chance to fill my pack one more time, knowing it would last to the end. As I approached the fountain, which was in a less lit area, I sunk to my ankles in mud. The fountain leaked and the whole area around it was a bog of slime. It is moments like these that I am so happy to be a barefoot runner! I don’t mind mud on my feet, but it surely would have ruined a pair of shoes, or help the captive! After filling my Camelbak and squishing my way back to the path it was time to hunker down and get the hardest part done, the last 10K.

       When I first joined Marathon Maniacs, I posted a question to the group, asking if marathons ever got easy or comfortable. The general consensus was no, everyone hurts after 20 miles, it is just a matter of who is tough enough to keep going. Was I tough enough? I was fine after 20 in China, but I had done a LOT of walking in the early miles. My history was of the wheels falling off at 20 and giving in to the death march. This time wasn’t a whole lot better, but nothing specifically hurt, my blood sugars were fine, and I was hydrated. There was no real reason for me not to be running, so I pressed on. I had an MP3 player tucked in my pack, but it wasn’t appealing to me. Instead I decided to pass some time with an age old favorite, “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” No, I didn’t sing out loud, but it took a lot of concentration to keep track and not forget what number I was on and this focus got me through 3 more miles.

       I took a walk break at “49 bottles”, but when I hit zero, I decided to keep going to the next bridge. I could count 10 lamp posts to the next bridge and it was 10 breaths per lamp post, counting, counting, one foot in front of the other. I told myself I could walk under the next bridge, but with the one after clearly in sight, I pressed on with the promise of walking under THAT one instead, then on to the Olympic Stadium.

       Finally, coming up on 1:20 am, I turned the corner to enter the finish chute which was totally empty with no one along the ropes. I went under the arch and strolled across the grass to the tables to pick up my finishers medal. The two twenty-something girls hopped up and down clapping and telling me I was the first woman to finish. HUH? I had actually entertained a vain idea about that since I didn’t see any women ahead of me at the turn around, but I didn’t really think it could happen. No one really cared about the marathon though, it was all about the 50K that was now more than half over for the future winners, so I got a hand shake, a pat on the head, and a bowl of tofu for my win.

       After a bit of rest and some food, I piled back into my truck to head home. I was still high on Chocolate Outrage GU so a nap was out of the question, better to just get home before the caffeine wore off.

In the end, it wasn’t really all that adventurous, but I learned a few things.

1) When they say never wear something new on race day, THEY MEAN IT! My nifty new black tank rubbed me raw on the underside of my arms. The chafing was so bad, by the time I got home they were huge, raised, swollen welts that still sting two days later.

2) Running after dark is not fun for me. I’m tired, cranky, annoyed, and just want to go to bed. I don’t foresee any more night marathons in the future unless there is a really good carrot to go with it!

3) Carrying a 70 oz. of water not only gives you huge bruises on your shoulders, it also throws off your posture making your back and neck ache. I’ve worn it for trail running, but flat road running is not the same.

4) 80F at night is still 80F, hot is hot and dark doesn’t help that much, other than not having to wear sunscreen.

     Now that the dust has settled and my chafing wounds are nearly healed, I’m glad I did it. I know now that running a marathon barefoot wasn’t a fluke, I can do it and I recover better than when I wear shoes just like with half marathons. I won’t always get to marathon barefoot because I wear shoes if I don’t know the road conditions, but I will go bare any time I can!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Namsan Hot Summer Marathon

Namsan Hot Summer Marathon

       My 6th half marathon in 4 months, I can’t believe it! This makes me a “2 Moon Half Fanatic” which is fun.
The cheer squad waiting for the first runners
(Photo by Jaqueline Bartocha)

       It was a wonderful fun race day, which is good since it was a grueling course. It consisted of out and backs over a 3k long path over an undulating mountain. There were water stops at either end, and nice bathrooms with fountains that turned into filled buckets with giant ladles you could dump over yourself, or a granny with a hose ready, willing, and able to completely soak you from head to toe and fill your shoes. About one kilometer into the course the Seoul Flyers running club members, that had the good sense NOT to enter this race, set up a support stop to cheer on the runners and give us extra water, Gatorade, and gels. It was awesome to have such great support and hear people get excited each time I passed. They had megaphones and cameras, and I spotted one dedicated Flyer schlepping pairs of 8 liter jugs back and forth to the nearest water tap several times.
Go Seoul Flyers!!
(Photo by Jaqueline Bartocha)

       Unfortunately, the race didn’t go as well as I had hoped it would. Taking off at the start, my legs instantly felt like they were on fire from a hard effort with no warm up. I couldn’t explain it since I was still in the slow shuffle of the start, waiting patiently for the crowd to thin out enough to actually run. It really felt like I simply wasn’t getting any oxygen to my legs. Maybe my blood pressure was down from the heat or something, I don’t know, but I knew it didn’t bode well for my finish time. Thinking my calf compression sleeves could be too tight, I stopped and pulled them down around my ankles. It didn’t help and not long after I stopped to pull them back up again. Still no help or change, it was going to be a really long 13.1 miles.

       It was hot, but most of the course was shaded so at least we weren’t being cooked by the sun. I had decided before hand to wear my Merrell Trail Gloves since I was sure the road would be miserably hot by at least half way through the race. It was probably a good decision, although I think I could have managed with the amount of shade we had. Oh well, too late now!

( Garmin connect record of the event and elevation profile)

       I was determined not to talk a walking break during the first loop, but the hills were way more steep than I had anticipated. A friend had posted his elevation profile a week or so before from running the race route and the difference in height between the tops and bottoms of the hills didn’t look all that bad. The reality of it though, to quote another friend, was that it was like running up and down a 5 story building. I would love to know exactly how far we ran if you measured it out with a marking wheel instead of GPS!

       As I approached the end of the first out and back, I passed the Flyers and yelled, “What the h**l was I thinking!” This got a hearty laugh from the group. They all live in Seoul and have run this mountain before. They knew exactly what the race entailed, which is why they were cheering and not running!

Mugging for the camera
(Photo by Jaqueline Bartocha)

       By the end of my second out and back, I was really beginning to think this would be a 3 hour half marathon for me. I was a total mess. Thanks to lots of water on the course, I was drenched from head to toe, my shoes were squishing, and my skirt was so water logged it weighed several pounds and was falling off. Every few minutes I would have to hike it back up again to keep from mooning everyone behind me. There was no way to know where I was in the pack because people were an various laps. With the exception of the fast marathon runners that would whip past me every so often, the rest were alternating between a fast downhill trot and a slow death march up the next incline. People constantly passed and were passed and I rarely seemed to see the same runner twice. My course calculation skills were gone and there were runners and hikers everywhere, it all just seemed like a big blur.

       Along the way, I would alternate between downhill, “I can do this, let’s get it over with” and half way up the next hill, “Oh, forget it, I don’t care anymore.” I think the only thing that kept me from not plopping down at the cheering station and quitting was the fact that this was the race that would give me my second “moon” in the half fanatic standings. Sometimes, the refusal to quit is the only thing that keeps you going. By mile 10, my left calf decided to try cramping. I immediately popped two Salt Stick capsules and downed the last of my water bottle, hoping my next chance to refill would arrive soon! It seemed to work. Although my calf continued to twinge, it never fully cramped.

       Finishing up the third lap, I was actually feeling a bit better, or at least a bit less despondent. I had 2 miles left to go and the Flyers were still out cheering (more than once I have finished a race so late that they were all gone.) By this time, pounding down the hills was really getting hard. My right ankle, where I had the stress fracture 2 years ago, was hurting and worrying me. The last thing I need right now is another stress fracture! Downhill trots became a lopsided hobble, landing on my heel on the left to protect my twingeing calf, and on the ball of my foot on the right to protect my hurting ankle. Once I hit the turn around that marked the partial lap for the half marathoners, I breathed a sigh of relief. Just one more mile!
(Photo by Sarah Gu)

       Passing the Flyers one last time I paused for a drink and Jacqueline snapped this shot of a very weary runner. I thanked them and pressed on for my last half mile. As is started the last lap I was happy to note that I could probably finish sub-2:40. Then, as I reached the last leg back, I realized that a good finish kick could put me in sub-2:30! I don’t know why I play these silly head games, it makes no difference to anyone, anywhere, but me if I finish 2:40 or 2:30, but it gave me a reason to pour it on at the end. I chugged up the last hill, breathing like a steam engine on its last gasp of coal, hobbling with an uneven rhythm. The clock said 2:30, but I knew it took me a minute or so to get to the start mats and my Garmin seemed to agree.

       Crossing the finish I headed straight to the bathroom (apparently I was well hydrated) and started wandering around looking for all the stops I needed to make. 1) Retrieve back pack from bag check. 2) Find the amazing food everyone was carrying around. Chilled watermelon and cucumber soup, hot bibimbap (my favorite!) and big vats of makgoli, a Korean fermented rice drink. 3) Get my printed certificate, (YES! 2:29:54!) 4) Turn in my chip in exchange for my medal. 5) And last, walk back to the cheer station to join the Flyers in celebrating the finishes for our two runners in the Full marathon. This was not necessarily the order that the stations were meant to be progressed through, but my fried brain did its best and I got to everything eventually.

Runners and cheerers
(Photo by Sarah Gu)

Photo by Happy Leports

       I did see one man being accompanied across the finish line by his entire club, their banner, and bouquets of flowers. It was his 200th or 300th marathon, either way they were celebrating big time! He would make a very good Marathon Maniac!

       Festivities over, pictures taken, and car packed up, I headed home for a shower and nap. It really was a great race. The hardest runs, the ones that really put you to the test and make you leave everything on the course, are the best no matter how well or poorly you feel you did. It wasn’t my best race, and it wasn’t necessarily my hardest race, but it was definitely one of my most challenging races and I will cherish my memories and medal.

Honored to be part of this picture! From the left, Michael Dal Cero (6th place full), Michael Strata, Sara Maltby (first place for the women), Adeel Ahmad, James Bates, ME, Suntae Bae (who carried that flag the entire race) and Uriah Orland (6th place half). All amazing runners with amazing finish times.
(Photo by Jiwah Woo)

Friday, July 6, 2012

2012 Gangneung Gyungpo Marathon (Half)

2012 Gangneung Gyungpo Marathon

       What a fun weekend! This was my first overnight trip with my running club in Seoul. We chartered a bus and headed out early Saturday morning for the East Coast of Korea to participate in the half marathon, 10K and 5K.

View from our hotel room

       Arriving at the beach on Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by a cool, but beautiful landscape. The water was typical Pacific iciness, but that didn’t slow down the water enthusiasts. In smaller groups, we swam, ran, hit the restaurants, and relaxed before retiring for the evening.

Ice bath after a nice 3 mile run

       Sunday morning dawned cool and over cast, perfect for running! Several of us shunned our hats and even sunscreen, a mistake that would catch up with us later. Although it looked and even felt cool with the breeze, it was much warmer than it appeared and when the sun finally broke through the clouds, it warmed up sharply! The tail wind we didn’t notice on the way out was very apparent on the return trip, slowing even the best runners to a pace below what they had hoped for.

I swear this wasn't planned

       When I registered for this race, I had hoped for a PR. Then we decided to spend the early part of the week at Disneyland. 8 hour days on your feet does not make for a good taper, let alone getting up early and spending the day before on a bus and sleeping on a rock hard bed (Korean mattresses are little better than sleeping on the floor.) Over eating on the road didn’t help either, so by Sunday morning, I was definitely not feeling fast.

       The course was beautiful though. With lots of friends along the way, waves crashing, and lovely scenery, a PR wasn’t necessary to have a good time. On the second half, we were running into a stiff breeze and I was beginning to feel my too fast start. At one point, I felt like I was working at a 5K effort, but not going anywhere. My Garmin confirmed my pace was a full minute per mile slower than I wanted to be moving. Ugh, it was a struggle to maintain my pace and keep moving.

I love the reactions when people realize I'm running without shoes

       I was very glad to see the finish line and my husband, camera in hand, snapping away. My finish time, 2:06:49 was actually a PR for the year at least, 6 whole seconds faster than the Seoul Open back in March. This was my 5th half marathon in as many months, so I was happy to have improved.

I'm back there somewhere

Get back on the bus!!!

       After the race was another splash in the ocean followed by quick showers before checking out the hotel, grabbing lunch, and getting back on the bus with 40+ exhausted, but exhilarated and slightly inebriated, runners for the ride back to Seoul. It was a great time which I hope to repeat at least once more before we have to leave Asia.

Restocking the bus

Lessons Learned:

1) Never underestimate time on your feet, especially if you aren’t used to it. Days spend walking and standing in line will wear you out as much as high mileage runs.

2) Clouds are not sunscreen (I know this, but apparently have to relearn it every so often.)

3) Weather changes, it may be cool and lovely at the race start, but that doesn’t mean the sun won’t come out with a vengeance half way through the race.

4) A bad run with friends is still better than a good run alone!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Body Changes Through Running

       There are lots of pictures on the internet of people who have taken up exercise or running and had dramatic weight loss. They first show an obese person, often at a table or in front of a TV looking fat and miserable. Next they show their new self, a smiling, strong, much smaller in girth, fitter person. The pounds lost are anywhere from 20-30 to hundreds. I am blown away by these people. To change so much of your life, so many deeply ingrained habits, often without the support of the people around them, is amazing to me in so many ways.

      When I started running, I wasn’t particularly over weight. I was flabby and had a much higher percent of body fat than I appeared, but I wasn’t shopping in the plus size section yet. I controlled my weight with relatively healthy eating in small quantities, and once in a while I took a stab at exercise. When I started running, my mother said, “You will love it, weight will just fall off of you.” It didn’t. Matter of fact, the more I ran, the hungrier I was! A mile only burns around 100 calories whether you run it or walk it and when your runs are only 2 or so miles long, it doesn’t take much to consume what you burned.

       Over the last 5 years I have not seen a significant change in my weight. I did manage to lose the 10 or so pounds I had gained while living in Germany, but that just brought me back to my basic set point, the same weight that I have weighed for the majority of my adult life, which is about 30 pounds less than I weighed during the latter part of my teen years.

       For the most part, I have given up on the whole weight loss thing. I have tempered the unrealistic ideas that were formed while growing up in Southern California and my focus has shifted to being healthy and strong. Mind you, I do still watch my weight, get on the scale daily, and eat healthy, but I know I’m not likely to ever lost the 10-15 pounds that my upbringing tells me I should. I am at peace with my body in a lot of ways. Sure, there are a few places I’d still like to change and I would LOVE not to have to use anti-chaffing products on my inner thighs, but I know that the numbers on the scale do not mean much compared to how far I have come in general health, strength, and endurance.

       Then my picture from the Great Wall Marathon arrived in the mail. I dutifully put it in a frame and set it next to my half marathon photo from OBX 2 ½ years ago. When I looked at them side by side, I was shocked! For the first time in 5 years I could see the changes! In the past when my weight has dipped down, I could never see it. I looked the same to myself in the mirror even when the body I was looking at was 40lbs lighter than the image in my head, so for me to be able to see a change through that mental screen is startling.

November 2009 to May 2012 weight in both pictures: #134
     The change isn't dramatic, you have to look pretty close to see it, and I still don’t like my body all the time. Being raised by a father who always thought I was too fat is still part of my thinking and is something in my head that I have to work on. I will probably never be totaly satisfied with how I look, but I am increasingly satisfied with how I feel and my control over RA, THAT is what is truly important. Maybe with the increase is strength training I'm doing, I will have a third picture to add in a couple of years! What I hope I can impress upon people is that change in our bodies takes a lot of time and patients, but it is worth it.