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Oakland Half Marathon, prelude March 27, 2012

Posted by Merrilee in Uncategorized.
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I’d like to take MerrileeIAm readers back in time, not to the beginning of this blog, but to the beginning of blogging about running. It was 2010, and I was training for the Oakland Half Marathon. Shortly after I started training, people asked me if I was raising money for a cause, so I decided to dedicate my training to raising money for cancer research. I did so in honor of two women who were very dear to me, my friend and colleague Nancy and Keith’s aunt Phyllis. Shortly after that, I was injured, and dropped out of training. I also dropped out of fundraising (having never really started), but held on to the idea.

The following year, I returned to training, and renewed my vow to raise money for cancer research. By then, Nancy had cancer in her rearview mirror, but Phyllis had lost her battle. On many long training runs I would think about Nancy and Phyllis, grateful for my own health. Thinking about the challenges faced by those with serious and life threatening illness… well, it puts a challenging workout into perspective. I’m privileged to be able to do it. In 2011, I successfully raised funds for cancer (thanks to many of YOU who donated), but was unsuccessful in running the Oakland half – due to injuries, I once again had to drop out. My disappointment was double-edged – I wasn’t accomplishing my own goal, AND I was failing to honor those I had trained for.

Fast forward to last Sunday. At 8:50, I was in the corral, ready to start the race at 9:15. The forecast had been for rain, but despite predictions, the conditions were good. (My friend Elaine told me the night before, “it never rains for 48 hours in the bay area.” Elaine, you are a genius.) I had trained with so many people, this year, last year, the year before that, but just before the start I was on my own (in a crowd of 4000 runners, more than 300 women in my own 5 year age bracket). I had no one to nervously chatter with. So I had time to think. What a miracle to be able to run. What good fortune to be able to finally run this race, in my hometown. There were times I didn’t think I would ever be on that line, for that race. It seemed jinxed. But I was in one piece. I made it. We made it.

Thank you, Nancy and Phyllis, for inspiring me, and getting me to the start. You’ve been with me more than you’ll ever know.


Third time. The charm? March 24, 2012

Posted by Merrilee in Uncategorized.

Although I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot, I haven’t been. I don’t know why. Since my last posting, I’ve run in three different races and done a bunch of travel, but haven’t been able to bring myself to write about any of it. I’ve also been sick, since about mid February (hmm, right around the time of my first race). Like, very sick — lots of coughing, nonstop running nose and plugged ears. I finally went to the doctor on Wednesday. No surprise (in retrospect, I suppose) I have had a sinus infection. Who knew — I’ve never had a sinus infection before. Now, after several days on antibiotics, I am feeling half human again. Which brings me tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the third annual Oakland Running Festival. MerrileeIAm fans may recall that this blog was used to document my experiences training for the first ORF (up to the point where I dropped out). And the second ORF (up to the point where I dropped out at the last minute). Perhaps because of this, this whole training season, I’ve been very cautious about reporting successes, as I have in the past. I’ll admit it, I’m kind of superstitious. And because of that, (and because of the terrible cold) for the last week, I’ve had a feeling of dread — I’m not going to get better, I’m going to have to drop out again!

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m pleased to report that I have my bib, I have my chocolate Gu, and my clothes are in the dryer. I’m going to have dinner with some of the other pacers and racing team mates. I am pretty resigned that I am not going get the PR I was hoping for, and it will almost certainly be raining tomorrow. But you know what? I’m going to run the Oakland half! And that’s a good thing.

The future January 30, 2012

Posted by Merrilee in Family, Running.

I’m in a space now where I’m waiting on the outcome of a number of things. It’s making me feel kind of inbetween. In a short space, I’ll know the outcome, and I hope this will end the inbetween-ness. Because inbetween is weird. Some examples of being inbetween:

Our daily routine:  Oakland has an open school application process — anyone can apply to any public school. Since Karydis starts school in the fall, we went through a selection process and applied to two schools. One is our neighborhood school, one is a school that’s a little further away. We’ll find out in March. I’m not so concerned about the school (I’m pretty confident we’ll get into the neighborhood school and if we don’t we’ll deal with it). It’s more the uncertainty of what life will be like next year with a Kindergartener and what impact it will have on our relatively lovely schedule. The new beginning is exciting, but also feels like the beginning of the end. So in March we’ll know the outlines of this part of our future, but not the particulars.

Our summer: For the last 8 years, we’ve gone to Burning Man. Normally by this time of the year, I’d have my tickets in hand. This year, like almost everyone else, we’re in limbo. There will be a ticket drawing on either Tuesday or Wednesday and from what I’ve heard, there’s a good chance we won’t get tickets. There will probably be good avenues for getting tickets through a managed process but who really knows. School conflicts with the event, and I’m conflicted about going at all (and if going, when to go). So this is a multistage inbetween — a mechanical piece (getting the tickets) and a logistical / decisionmaking piece. I’m not enjoying either one at the moment. At some point it will gel.

Racing/running/training: For the last several years I’ve had a nice training schedule. Train for the Oakland Running Festival half marathon, get injured, take the rest of the year to recover. 🙂 I think this year will be different (because I’ve changed my habits, as I’ve detailed in this blog) but who knows? I’m going to start my track training this week, and I might run in the Kaiser half marathon next weekend (still unsettled). And if and when I do race, can I actually get faster? If I can’t, will this kill my motivation? My enjoyment? Send me in another direction? I’ve also signed up for a month of fitness training at a small local gym, just hoping to shake things up but will be giving up my yoga practice to do this. A journey? A detour? It starts next week.

Old year, new year January 16, 2012

Posted by Merrilee in Family, Running.
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Last year I think I made some resolutions (on Facebook) but now I can’t find them — I think they are lost in the cloud (boo). I can recall one that lasted about a week, involving not drinking alcohol on weekdays, but I don’t recall the others. Maybe I didn’t live up to my expectations in that instance, but I did learn a lot in 2011. Here’s a small list of what I learned and what I did:

  • A sample running plan is just that — it’s important to know your own body and go with what it (not a piece of paper) tells you. I shouldn’t run two days in a row, period. On the other hand, if I push myself I really can run close to an 8 minute mile in a 5K.
  • I still love being Karydis’ mom and I think she likes me, too. Sometimes we just sit and grin at one another.
  • Wow, I’ve been going to yoga week in and week out since November 2010. I think that’s something, don’t you?
  • When traveling, it’s better to find an apartment or house to rent, rather than staying in a hotel. And airbnb.com rocks.
  • I’m in my second year of being a pace group leader for the Oakland Running Festival training program. I love doing that.
  • I ditched my New Yorker subscription about 18 months ago, and have read a ton of books since then. Now that I have a Kindle Fire, and can check out books any time I want, I’m pretty much unstoppable.
  • Adding pasta water to pasta and sauce really does make everything stick together.

Here’s what I hope this year will bring:

  • Running: I’d like to do 3-4 half marathons, and I aim to do as many of the LMJS Fourth Sunday Runs as I can. I also hope to go to track workouts, starting in a few weeks.
  • Just being: I’m a person who frequently jumps up and intervenes. I’ve been practicing just sitting back and observing. I’d like to do more of this.
  • Cross training: yoga and running are good, but I do need to do some weights and also to get my legs moving in other ways.
  • Kindergarten: this year marks the beginning of school for our daughter. I know this will be both an opportunity and a challenge for all of us.
  • Environment: at the end of last year, I started experimenting with taking the BART and bus to work (or, to a place that’s a 15 minute walk from work). It’s a moderate disruption from what I’m used to and definitely less convenient but has other upsides, so I hope to stick with it.

What about you? What do you hope to see or do in 2012?

TGI TFL January 10, 2012

Posted by Merrilee in Running.
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So for a number of months I’ve been complaining about hip pain. I had bursitis some time ago (also in my right hip) but this felt different. When I was doing longer runs it hurt more (and for longer after I ran). I put off going to the doctor because I didn’t want anyone to tell me to stop running, at least until after Clarksburg. But even post-Clarksburg, I put off dealing with it for some time. But finally the uncertainty was driving me crazy. What if I was doing long term damage? Or, what if the solution was simple, like a special shoe insert?

So in December, I made an appointment with my sports medicine doc. He’s also a runner, and one of the things I love about him is that he’s not going to tell me not to run. He did various tweakings and decided that I had strained my tensor fasciae latae (a small muscle that hangs out behind the IT band). The solution? Execute on a very difficult to do stretch, and roll it out using a foam roller. On my own, I tried rolling it out once before I saw him but it hurt so much the next day I decided it was the wrong thing.. It turns out that rolling it out makes a huge difference, so I’m doing that. I need to figure out how to work the complicated stretch into my life.

So what caused this? Was it related to my previous bursitis? (Nope.) Triggered by my scoliosis? (Nope.) It turns out that this is aggravated by running on hills (which is almost unavoidable for me, given where I live) and that I should shorten my stride on hills. He also endorsed my three day a week running schedule (never running two days in a row), and encouraged me to do a little more cross training.

Clarksburg half, race review November 16, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Uncategorized.

As I said in my previous post, I had significant anxiety about the Clarksburg Half. It wasn’t just about the course, it was about doubt. When I ran the Humboldt Half, I was a blank slate. Finishing would be good, and finishing “around 2 hours” would be better. So I did both, finish and around (but slightly over) 2 hours. But what if both of those were flukes? What if I really couldn’t finish a second half (four weeks later)? And what if my real time turned out to be much, much higher?

So I tossed and turned and got some sleep (I made the whole family go to bed early, but frankly we all needed it). I was up at 5 and out the door just before 6 to meet fellow LJMS teammate Sarah. Sarah wanted to get to the course early to change her registration from the 20 to the half (the half is part of the PA road racing series and Sarah wanted her race to count for the LMJS women’s racing team). We made good time getting to the small town of Clarksburg, which is on the Sacramento River, just south of Sacramento. Google maps showed that taking highway 4 and then highway 160 was the most direct route, so that’s the way we went. It turned out to also be quite beautiful. Highway 160 is essentially right on the levee of the Sacramento River. As Sarah said, this area of California puts some perspective on how Creedence Clearwater Revival, as an El Cerrito garage band, came up with songs like Born on the Bayou — except for the eucalyptus trees, this area really looks like the South. Driving along the levy and through the Delta also gives you an appreciation for how at risk this area is — as in New Orleans, the river really is above the towns, or so it appeared from our levy perch. I would love to return to this area and do some exploring. It looks perfect for bike touring or houseboating.

Despite a detour around an out-of-service drawbridge, we made good time. Check in at Delta High School was super efficient and Sarah had no problems switching her registration. After checking out the porta potty situation (more than adequate), sweat check (there was one), glancing again at the course map (still puzzling) greeting a few other LMJS ducks (there were more than 10 of us racing) and saying a brief hello to Sesa (running in the 20), we retreated to the car. Sarah catnapped and I messed around with my phone. I had decided, belatedly, to run with music and was still constructing a playlist. Finally I couldn’t take it any more and I headed out with all my gear — Garmin, bluetooth headphones, phone, Chocolate Outrage GU.

I milled around until it was time to head to the line for a leisurely 9:25 start. I found out that not only were there a lot of people running (in the kids run, the 5 K, the 10 K, the half, the 20…) but also a number of walkers. I talked to two women who were walking the half, which kind of blew my mind. If seems like the whole town of Clarksburg turns out for this event. Just before the race, a woman handed me a very random (but important) tip. The course is essentially flat (with one small “hill” at the beginning and end) but the road is subtly cambered. “Run right in the center,” she said. “This course kills people, because you are running on a slant the whole time and don’t know it.” That was good intel, and during the race I paid careful attention to the slant of the road.

When we lined up, I positioned myself towards the back. I wanted to go out slow, as I had at Humboldt, and hopefully do negative splits. My strategy was essentially the same expect I wanted to push myself harder at the end. I wound up going out quite slow indeed but not because I had planned it. For some reason my headset wasn’t synching with my phone so as I was starting to run, I was still messing with it. For a few minutes I thought I would be carrying the whole mess for nothing but then suddenly, there was a Schubert piano concerto (chosen to help me be calm at the beginning) playing as planned.

So let’s take a look at my splits and see how I did…
9:01 8:46 9:00 9:04 9:04 9:01
9:01 9:11 9:31 8:55 9:00 9:05 8:50 (and change)

I think I did okay. Before the turn around I was going a little faster than I wanted to but I think that worked out because at the turn around I realized there was a slight wind (that’s my 9:11 and 9:31). I finally decided it was less of a wind and more of an annoyance and I picked up the pace. The last three miles I kept wondering how terrible it would be if I walked. Then I thought, “Maybe I should run 10Ks.” Then I realized that if I was running a 10K, I’d also want to walk the last three miles — that’s just who I am. I’m pleased that I was actually pushing myself, even while thinking walking thoughts.

The course itself — well this is the Clarksburg COUNTRY Run. I thought it was a little monotonous. You are mostly running on roads with vineyards on either side. Which sounds nice, but this time of year the vines are pretty twiggy. It’s also quite open — tree lined roads would be ideal (this would be brutal with even a little heat). Even more ideal would be running by the river which I had kind of expected given the location. On the other hand, the course is flat and I heard a number of people say how pretty it was. Different strokes.

I’m a little more partial to Clarksburg than I might be otherwise because after all that angst I DID get a PR: 1:59:45. And after the race, I had a nice pasta lunch before heading home.

More race followup, with photos and a tshirt review will follow. But this is enough for now.

Clarksburg Half, the night before November 15, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Running.
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I don’t remember the gun, or the first few miles. I’m a few miles into the race (2? 3? who knows) and somehow I’m all on my own — the speedy people are way ahead and I know there are slower people behind me, but I don’t know how far back. I’ve been anxious about this course because there are a lot of turns (even though it’s essentially out and back). So I’m not sure where the course goes and it’s not marked at all. I could let someone who was slower than me and knows the way catch up, but I really want a PR.

Because I don’t know the course, I do wind up getting lost. For example, on one occassion, I go into someone’s garage and into their living room when of course the course goes into the garage and right back out (silly me). After a lot of going in and out of houses, my Garmin is no help and I’m not sure what my pace is because I haven’t seen any mile markers in a while.

To make matters worse, my period has started and I am wearing the light grey shorts I thought I got rid of. I know I’m sporting a giant obvious bloodstain, but I’m trying to just play it cool.

I head into a building and realize I’m in a hotel and it just so happens that there’s a professional conference I somehow forgot about. I’m there just in time for a working group meeting, so I go. It’s nice to see everyone, but I’m kind of stressed about getting back to the race. Everyone is caught up in preliminary chit chat and I keep trying to break into the conversation and ask that we cover business (since it won’t take very long). Because, see, I’m in the middle of running a half marathon and all of this is cutting into my time, and I’m not sure where the course goes so I’m bound to get lost some more.

I’m definitely not going to PR, but I have a really good excuse.

Then I wake up. It’s 1 am on Sunday morning. Only four more hours for anxiety dreams.

How many of you have pre race anxiety dreams?

I’ll continue with the real Clarksburg soon, but I had to get that out before I forgot. It’s amazing how vivid it still is.

Today you are 5 November 6, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Family.

Dear Karydis,

You spent most of my pregnancy kicking me. In meetings at work you were a distraction — an elbow or a foot pushing my belly out in the middle of meetings. “Is that for real?” My co workers would ask. “Are you sure it’s not an alien?”

Actually, I wasn’t sure. You were so active, I was concerned. Who would you be when I met you? Malcontent? Unhappy? Hemmed in? As it turns out, you were just yourself, only I didn’t know you yet.

November 6, 2006

Around this time (10 pm on October 5th), I was starting into labor and trying to not bug your dad, who was just trying to go to sleep. By midnight the contractions were close enough that we decided to go to the hospital. Despite the fact that it was a full moon, there was no one there, so I was admitted even though I wasn’t very dilated. I was so anxious to meet you, and you were born at 5:05 pm — just the right time, as far as I am concerned.

Happy birthday Karydis. On the cusp of 5, you are smart and funny, and yourself. You are always busy and curious — you love to color and paint and make things, you are always singing (making up songs when you don’t know the right one already). You love books. You want to learn to read this year and of course I’m supportive. You love your new bike. You are always on the move — the same as when you were in my belly. Only now I know you are happy-busy.

Say cheese!

I don’t love the princess-Barbie-pink thing you’ve been going through the last few years, but I’m willing to support it. So much so I’m making you a castle cake for your party today. True Love.

You are a very loyal friend — even though you don’t have a hard time making friends you want to have a one true best friend, and it’s hard for you when this isn’t reciprocated. I know the feeling, I was the same when I was a kid. Hold on tight, because having lots of friends is good, and there’s lots of room for everyone. You’ll figure this out.

I secretly love that you like to climb into bed with us in the middle of the night (don’t tell your dad). I love that you like to snuggle. I know this won’t last forever, so I’m trying to cherish it.

Running tools: part 2 November 5, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Running.
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This is the apps edition, especially for Sesa 😉

As I mentioned in my previous post, my number one, can’t do without running tool is my smartphone. I have an Samsung Nexus S (Android), which means that I don’t have access to apps in the iTunes store, but I think all my apps are also carried by Apple. I’m also unbelievably cheap, and I think I’ve only purchased 2 apps ever (neither of them running related). So I’m particularly interested to hear about your apps, and what you’ve found “worth it.”

1. MapMyRun: I travel quite a bit for work. Peak travel can be a week out of every month, which means that running is especially important. Exercise is very important when I’m eating every meal out! And since hotel gyms can be quite variable, running is extra important. For a long time, while traveling my technique was to do a web search on “[city name] running routes.” A few years ago I noticed that MapMyRun would come up with pretty good results, and after a while I figured out that if I put my hotel address into the website, I would get runs near where I was staying. Joy! The downside of travel running is waiting for my beloved 305 to wake up. Because as much as I love my Garmin, it can take a while to locate satellites. It is very dissatisfying to stand outside a hotel, holding your wrist up to the sky muttering “c’mon, COME ON!” It only took me several more months before I figured out that the way MapMyRun routes were created was BY SMARTPHONES and HEY there might be an app I COULD USE to track my TIME, DISTANCE and PACE! (Sometimes I am not so bright.) Now I use MapMyRun almost anytime when I want to track my overall route, but when I don’t care to know my pace or distance at a glance. Plus, while I’ve got my phone, I can also listen to music, which leads me to my next favorite app….

2. Pandora: I used to be a huge NextFM fan, but then my husband got a PandoraOne subscription for Christmas. Now I’m hooked. And (again, I’m not the brightest) eventually I figured out I could listen to my seeds on the go. On the run even! I won’t go into how Pandora works and how it’s different than LastFM (although if you buy me a beer I can go on and on about this and how fascinating it is) but for me it works well. My favorite seeds are Etta James, Curtis Mayfield, and Gotan Project. I need to start a Parliament seed, but I’m afraid my head will explode from funk. But I don’t always like to listen to music.

3. I use BeyondPod to download and listen to podcasts. I’m a die-hard public radio fan, so this is a great way for me to catch up on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life and other programs. My friend Barb recently told me about Marathon Talk which is both funny and super runner geeky. However, I’m not that nuts about BeyondPod, and I’m hesitant to download an app that I actually need to pay for. Do you have a Podcatcher you love?

4. In the not-strictly-running-but-still-fitness-related category, I’ve been trying to loose a little weight and I’ve been using MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake. This is a very clever app with a huge food database (users contribute to it). I like the web version better but the mobile version lets me scan in barcodes of food while I’m on the go, which is very handy.

I also fantasize about apps — for example, this Dark Skys micro weather service app which will let all of you iPhone people see if the weather will be nice for the next hour. I could have used this last winter. I’d also love an app that would dial up music based on my pace or workout. Or a place where I can share my (and see your) favorite playlists.

There are other feature of my phone I use to keep me motivated — I like to stop and take photos of nice spots or interesting features (something I learned from Elaine) and I stay in touch with other runners on Facebook (although not usually while I’m running).

How do you use technology to help with running? What are your favorites apps? Fantasy apps? Playlists? Pandora seeds I should know about?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go running.

Running tools: part 1 October 30, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Running.

For the last few weekends, I’ve been doing long runs on my own. As much as I love the LMJS Saturday runs, I’ve realized that getting there and back (and associated chit chat, etc.) burns up at least an hour, which even for me is a 6 mile opportunity cost. One of the things I’ve appreciated about running over biking is that it’s WAY more efficient and I’m not spending my whole weekend training. So yesterday for example, I did this 10 miler and was home by 8 am in order to pick up my mom from the airport.

Glutton for Hills

[WordPress.com won’t actually let me embed the route in this blog post, so you’ll have to click through to see. If you do, please note the hills on this route — I’m not whining when I talk about running hills in my neighborhood!]

Since I’ve been doing more solo running, I have appreciated the little things that make my running life nice so I thought I’d do a series on my favorite running tools. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

1. My phone: if I could leave the house with one thing, it would be my phone. I have an Android (a smart phone) and it’s loaded up with apps (more about some of those in another post). My phone is also a security blanket — if I get too tired, I could call for a ride or use Google maps to see how to catch a bus back to my starting point. I’ve never done either of these things but sometimes when I’m 3 miles into a 10 mile run, I start to think “there’s no way I can make it up those hills at the end!” I am easily bored so I make up new routes all the time. I know I can’t really get lost if I have a map in my hip pocket. To go along with my phone I also have…

2. My headset. I hate cords (how do you all manage them?), and I have tiny ears, so ear buds just pop out, so I invested in a (riduculously named) Motorola MOTOROKR S9-HD bluetooth headset. I love it. I love it so much that when I lost my first ones IN MY HOUSE, I bought a new one. It’s totally overkill for the handsfree driving experience, but I love it for running and the gym.

3. Although I don’t always take it with me, I also love my Garmin Forerunner 305. It’s a slightly older model but I love being able to track my pace, and when I bother to download the data, it is fun to geek out over that. I used to train religiously with a heart rate monitor (and I encourage that for people who never have) but I find that I seldom feel the need to slap my band on any more. When I can drag myself to the track, the Garmin is indispensable for seeing what my pace is. (And as a side note, I know the best way to get faster is to go to the track and I always have a good time when I do, but I find it hard to motivate myself to get there.)

I’m going to continue this in another post, so stay tuned!