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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.

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.

Going the distance? October 23, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in Uncategorized.

So I did finish the Humboldt Half. I didn’t know what to expect and had kind of sort of been aiming for something “around 2 hours.” My time was 2:00:14. Of course I’m disappointed that I didn’t dip below the magical 2 hour mark. This is silly, but typical.

Realistically speaking I’m in the top percentile of people in the country in terms of speed and distance (my logic is that there are tons of people who don’t run at all and plenty who don’t run much). Instead of being content with this, I focus on what I’m not. For example, I’m not any of the three women I carpooled with to the race. One started running three years ago and has done “only” 4 marathons. Another has been running for 20 some years and has done 21 or 22 marathons (it’s not that she’s lost count, I can’t recall). The third woman had done 11 regular marathons — and a similar number that were part of triathlons.

So let’s get something straight — I do not consider myself marathon material (although I’m a tiny bit tempted by the New York Marathon). I think the half is a perfect distance for me. I have reached the point where I do not consider an 8-10 mile run to be particularly long or challenging — I only need to be sure I can carve the time out of my schedule to do it. I am a little intimidated by people who seems to know just what to do: training, tapering, dressing, pacing, what to eat the night before, what to eat the morning before, what to do after… I know I will get there. Unless I get eaten up by trying to be better every time. It’s just not realistic. But I do like having a goal on the horizon.

I think my main challenge is going to be to enjoy the process, and not to be fixed on the outcome, if that makes any sense.

And speaking of having a goal, I’m aiming to run in the Clarksburg Half on November 13th.

Cautiously optimistic October 13, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.
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I haven’t been blogging about running because I’m afraid I’ll jinx myself. After all, every time I’ve blogged about my successes, I get injured. (Yes, it really is all about ME.) But it’s time for me to out myself.

I’m running a half marathon on Sunday, the Humboldt Half. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I’ve not had a lot of success with my training in the past. So this time I’ve deviated from a more traditional training plan, so I’m not sure I’ll do well, but I am sure I will finish. I decided that my injuries were due to over training, so I cut back on my mid week running schedule, and have only been running two weekdays. On the weekends I’ve been doing a long run, and increasing the distance slowly. But I’ve been plagued by respiratory issues (I’m prone to summer colds for some reason) and I also went through a spell where I was unusally achey and just couldn’t run as far as I was planning to. For example, two weeks ago, I was going to run 11 miles, but could barely run 9 (and had to walk about a mile of that). But I have been consistent about training and (importantly) have kept up with yoga and have been good about stretching after long runs. On Saturday I ran 11 miles which included a LOT of hills (from my house to Lake Merritt and back through Piedmont). I’ve not only remained injury free, I’ve felt pretty good. So I guess I’m going to do it. Wish me luck.

Treatment plan April 2, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.

I promised that I would go see a doctor about my injury and thanks to a recommendation from a fellow runner, I found a doctor who seems like a good fit (let’s hope he knows his stuff!). At this point, I’m pretty much asymptomatic. My knee hurts a little, but I’m not limping or having problems putting weight on it. The doctor’s analysis is that it’s either a medial ligament (good) or a damage to the meniscus (bad). The treatment is for me to run a little on a treadmill — if it hurts, then I’m supposed to mark where with a sharpie and make an appointment to see him. If it doesn’t hurt, I can gradually return to running. He was  not happy that I didn’t bring my running shoes, which would have helped him see how well my current shoes support my feet.

The moral of the story: if you are injured, go see the doctor when things still hurt (in my case, with 10 days of work travel this didn’t seem like an option but I could have made the time). And bring your shoes to your appointment.

On not running March 28, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.
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Today, I got up early, had my usual pre-running breakfast (coffee and toast with avacado!), got dressed in running clothes and a few extra layers then drove to the start of the race and didn’t run. It was a weird feeling.

I was a little ambivalent about going to the race. Maybe seeing everyone would be too painful? In the end, my strong volunteer spirit overruled everything and I decided to hang out in the LMJS tent. As I saw first the marathoners and then the half marathoners prepare themselves for the race, I realized I didn’t have even a bit of regret. I’d made the right decision for me and I was genuinely excited for all of them and so proud of all that they had accomplished in their weeks of training.

When I knew “my” group (those who had been in my pace group) would be getting close to the finish, I left the tent and joined the crowd lining the route. For me, this was almost as good as being in the race myself (maybe better because there were no regrets and no sore muscles!). As each person approached the finish, I was so proud of each of them.

I wasn’t sure how long I would stay, but at around noon, with my face hurting from smiling so much, I decided to take off. I had been thinking that as long as I was registered for the race, I might want to cash in on one of my two free beers, but then I found out that it was MGD. I admit it, I’m a beer snob. Not having actually run, a beer didn’t sound as good as it might have otherwise.

On a more serious note, in the last week, I found out that a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and a former coworker died of cancer. I’m keenly aware of the impact that cancer has on all of our lives, so I’m glad I put myself forward to raise money for the United Cancer Society. Even if I wasn’t able to follow through with all of my intentions, I’m glad I was able to contribute to the cause and to raising awareness. Focusing on cancer makes me realize how much I have, in terms of my own health and my tremendous personal support network. Thanks to you all for taking care of me, in all kinds of ways.

This will be the last posting on my experiences with the 2011 Oakland Running Festival. For those of you who have been following along the way and for those of you who donated to the cause, thanks for your support. I’ll continue to blog about running (and the road to recovery), but also probably horseback riding (I’ve just started taking lessons), yoga, and my amazing daughter Karydis.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop March 26, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.

This is a difficult blog posting to write, but it’s been about two weeks coming.

Three weeks ago, following our run over the ORF course, I was really hobbling around. That week, I didn’t run, took lots of ibuprofen, iced my knee, and visited my acupuncturist. Two weeks ago, I showed up for our group run in Lafayette, not sure if I would run or not. Part of the reason I headed out was that Olympic marathoner Magdalena Lewy-Boulet was speaking to our group (not only does she live in Oakland but I think she lives in my nieghborhood because sometimes I see her at our tiny neighborhood gym).

I left with the group not sure what I would do, and wound up running the whole 11 miles. I felt great until the next day when I could no longer walk normally. Since then I’ve been in denial — maybe my knee would recover and I could run the half. I’ve been traveling for work almost that whole time, so I didn’t have a lot of time to run but have been doing a ton of walking. And my knee has been surprisingly cooperative. But last night I had an epiphany.

I had to catch my very last plane of the trip and the connection was very tight (10 minutes, but in the same terminal). If I missed the flight I would spend the night in Washington DC and not get home until Saturday. After 10 days away, I’ve been missing my family like crazy so of course I ran to make the connection. My leg throbbed very painfully for about an hour, just after that little jog. Okay, I was wearing the wrong shoes and a heavy backpack but this was a sign. I’m not up to it. I’m not going to run in the ORF. Again.

The worse part is that I feel like I’m letting people down. I’ve been running to raise money for the United Cancer Society and even thought this is the only thing to do, I feel like I’m not keeping my part of the bargain. But I do need to take care of myself. I need to lay off running until I’m really healed, actually make an appointment with a doctor, and find other ways to keep active.

Today I need to go down to the ORF headquarters to see what I can do — maybe someone else can take my slot. I will also see if the LMJS folks need help on race day. It doesn’t seem like enough, somehow, but it’s something.

Going the distance March 10, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.

On Sunday, a rainy day, I headed out the door at 7:40 to run 13.1 miles. My knee, which had been hurting off and on since the previous weeks’ run, was bugging me, so I promised myself I would go easy on myself and turn back if I needed to. But I really didn’t want to turn back because I had signed up to lead a pace group, and this was an opportunity to preview the entire half marathon course.

As I drove to the starting point, the Marriott in downtown Oakland, I looked west hoping for a break in the clouds. “All I need is two hours of clear weather,” I told myself. No luck, more rain was clearly on the way, so instead I focussed on finding parking and getting to the starting point ontime. This was a course preview not just for LMJS but for anyone who had signed up for the Oakland Running Festival (ORF) and who was interested in running in the rain early on a Sunday. Amazingly, there were at least 200 people and it took me a while to find some friendly faces in the crowd. First the marathoners (running 20 miles) set off, pace group by pace group, then it was us, the half marathoners. Shortly after we left I realized I had overdressed (again!) but fortunately it was raining(!!!). As soon as the rain soaked through my top layer, my body temperature was about perfect. I was wet but warm. And as soon as I warmed up, my knee stopped bothering me.

One thing I will say about this course: it’s flat. Another thing: there are a lot of turns. The race organizers had passed out these super cool laminated route sheets with the half on one side and the full on the other. The sheets were slim, maybe 3 inches wide and 8 inches long, and simple (“turn left at 12th Street”). This was much easier than clutching the double-sided cue sheets and maps I had printed out and stuffed into an oversized ziplock.

We had previewed part of the course previously, but kind of out of order. By the time we got to Jack London Square, I knew I was home free (even though we were only about 5 miles in). And the last little loop around the lake felt great. But the last mile was difficult and my legs felt leaden and I was feeling distinctly non triumphant, even though hey, I just ran 13.1 miles! I don’t know what the issue was, but by the time I got home I had completely stiffened up and was tired and headachey.

I was pretty happy with my time, with was 2:10. This included time spent at stoplights and even a bathroom stop where I failed to pause my watch. So yay me.

Snow Job February 28, 2011

Posted by Merrilee in LMJS.
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Yesterday, I ran 12 miles in the snow.

I’ve been waiting to write that for almost a week, because for several days, the forecast for Friday and Saturday called for snow. Not just in the hills (we routinely have shortlived snow flurries at our house at around 800 feet) but at sea level. Accumulation would have been unlikely, I think, but it sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Like I’m really a very dedicated runner, to be out in such conditions?

As it turns out, our run along the Canal Trail in Walnut Creek was about as pleasant as it gets. Temperatures were cool, in the 30s when we left the Sports Basement parking lot, but it was sunny enough that I ditched my extra outer layer in the car right before we left. The run was almost completely flat, with few traffic lights. The route was out and back with an extension, and although I was pacing, I failed to take note of the exact mileage at our first major turn, so we wound up running almost 12.5 miles instead of just 12. That’s 3.5 miles further than last week’s run, and almost the full distance I’ll be running just 4 weeks from today. I’m tired and I definitely feel it in my knees, but over all I feel good. We’re almost there, and I’m almost ready. My goal is 2 hours (a 9:09 pace). On the one hand, given the information distributed during the training program, this seems attainable. On the other hand, it seems nutty. Then again, my pace for the Tilden Tough Ten (which is, um, tough) was 9:18. We’ll see.