Hammer Half Marathon – Race Recap

The Hammer Half Marathon in Ventura CA is a small race that raises funds for Habitat for Humanity. I had Sunday morning free and was happy to be able to participate. The course is a familiar out and back (or up and down) on the Ventura River Bike Trail.

For us Californians, it was a chilly and wet morning for a race (and I think it kept some people away). I ran my warmup, did some drills and strides and, wearing layers, was nice and warm…so I took off my jacket and long sleeve shirt and ran in a racing tank and shorts. It was funny to observe the looks of all those around me…they seemed to think I was crazy. It was about 46° at the start of the race. While waiting to start it was chilly and my hands were cold for the first mile but after that I was fine. HaHa…I was remembering how cold I was in Boston last April and today’s weather was nothing compared to that.

The First Half of the Race is a gradual climb up. I’ve never been a very good uphill runner so I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I wanted to run a pace that would be on par with a Boston Qualifying pace. As usual, I started way too fast, but was able to settle down pretty quickly. I felt good all the way up…except for almost slipping on some mud! As a few people passed me, I was tempted to speed up, especially as I was feeling pretty good. But I stuck with my goal of trying to run strong and steady.

Happily, when I hit the halfway point I looked at my average pace and it was 9:16. That was great! I need a 9:20 pace to run a marathon in just under 4:05 (my qualifying time and PR). That 6.5 miles was my best uphill effort ever! The Final Surge data says I did 9:19 instead of the 9:16 that I saw while running, but either way I met my goal for the climb.

The Second Half Downhill was a test of fitness. Immediately upon turning I picked up the pace and ran with a much harder effort than I did in the first half. I was trying to catch those runners who’d passed me on the way up…unfortunately I closed the gap but didn’t catch them. I usually dislike this portion of the course, because while it is downhill, it is very gradual and on tired legs it can actually feel like I’m going uphill. Last October I crashed and burned in this segment of the Ventura Marathon. So part of my run today was to prove to myself that I can indeed run well on this part of the course. I am very happy with my effort.

We’re standing in the rain for this celebratory photo

Overall…I placed 3rd in my age group (50-59). I would have gotten second if I could have chased down one of those people I was trying to catch! This was my 3rd fastest half marathon, but the other two were either flat (with a gradual descent towards the ocean – and I basically had the same time as this race…just 6 seconds slower) and the other race had an elevation drop of 3,000+ ft (a Revel downhill race). This was a far harder race as half of it was uphill so I am very happy. My daughter and son also placed in their age groups making it a very nice family outing.

Next up will be the LA Marathon…six weeks from today.

Coaching to a San Francisco Marathon Finish

IMG_5287I shared my own race recap yesterday for The San Francisco Marathon (The Mental Game – The San Francisco Marathon Race Recap). It wasn’t my best race, but it wasn’t without merit. Personally it was a learning experience and the course was so scenic, even if it was challenging. I ended that post by saying that something pretty awesome did happen at that race. What could be so awesome on such a hard day?

The fact that my husband, son, and daughter were there running also. I am continually grateful that we’ve become a family that runs together.

So what can add to this?

I was able to coach each of my family members for their races. Yes. Coach.

I have been wanting to get into coaching in my spare time. I’ve read numerous books on coaching. I talk to my coach all the time about coaching (and he’s allowing me to assist him with some group training for The Ventura Marathon). I listen to podcasts about coaching. I’ve coached a church member to her first half marathon. And I’ve helped someone to run her first no walk break mile (and we’ve become friends through the process!). I find lots of parallels between coaching and pastoring by the way!

My daughter, Megan, has been getting help from me for about a year…and before that she often piggybacked onto my own program since we run a lot of the same races. Unfortunately she pulled a groin muscle while we were in Boston and was unable to run for a few weeks. In mid-May we decided that the best course for her would be to drop down to the half in San Francisco so as not to re-injure herself. She ran the half and is now training for The Ventura Marathon in October and the Ray Miller 50K in December.

Scott Matt San Francisco
Scott in blue and Matt in white on their way up to the Golden Gate Bridge

My son, Matt, ran his first marathon in 2016 and vowed that he’d never do another. Over the years, I, as an annoying mom, would ask “when are you gonna run a marathon again?” He always responded with an emphatic “never!” On Christmas Day I asked, “so are you going to do the full in San Francisco?” I expected him to say “no” but he surprised me with a “sure, I’ll do it.” I promptly signed him up for the race. And, coached by his mom, he successfully completed his 2nd marathon at San Francisco.

The most exciting story is that my husband, Scott, was able to complete his first marathon. He came in just behind me, I heard them announce his name, while I was drinking some ice cold chocolate milk!

He was tired, as we all were. His muscles cramped at mile 21 and he was momentarily freaked out by that never before experienced feeling. But he pushed through and finished his first marathon. I am so proud of him! Our wedding anniversary was July 30th and what better way to celebrate 30 years than run a marathon!

I’m grateful that these three loved ones trusted me enough to allow me to be their running coach. It is a bit scary putting together a plan for someone else. It is also gratifying and fun.


The Mental Game – The San Francisco Marathon Race Recap

Pre-dawn, pre-race pic with my husband. We were also celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary

nice-new-trail-shoespero-la-cosa-mas-importante-en-toda-la-escritura-es-la-manera-en-que-tratamos-a-unos-y-a-los-otros-cuando-tenemos-odio-o-cuando-no-tenemos-empatc3ada-estamos-viviendo.jpgTwo years ago our family decided to run the 2nd half of The San Francisco Marathon. Then, to receive a special “half it all” medal, my husband and I returned the next year and run the first half. Of course, we had to follow up that effort with the next challenge – 52 Club – for those who run both halves followed by the full in consecutive years.

We knew it was a tough and hilly course. We also were confidant that our experience in already running both halves would help us. Hmmm. It turns out that previous experience didn’t help me much.

I went into this race feeling pretty confident. The weather was forecast to be perfect for racing, and except for the wind on the bridge it was. My running of the first half the previous year was one of my best races (not fastest – there were hills!). My average pace (on my watch) was 9:01 at this race, so I thought that a targeted pace of 9:20 was doable. (I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon)

2018-san-francisco-marathon.jpegI came nowhere close to 9:20! Instead I ran one of my slowest marathons in a time of 4:39:05. What happened? Lots of things…here are the one’s I’m contemplating.

  1. I had a terrible night’s sleep! According to my Garmin, I got six hours of tossing and turning. It felt like less than that and I remember being concerned while I was trying to go will myself to sleep.

    Pre-race anxiety can cause lack of sleep and for this reason, I think, many advise us runners to make sure they sleep well two nights before the race. My Friday night sleep was just “OK” in that I slept for a bit more than eight hours but most of it was restless sleep.

    For me, this is a problem of menopause and one for which I have yet to find an adequate solution. I continue to try meditation and hopefully it will eventually help.

    In the end, this lack of good sleep didn’t help my mental or physical game on race day.

  2. Bad race strategy. As mentioned earlier I had thought I could average a 9:20 pace. I still think that I could do this but I should have approached it differently. Next time I need to run by effort and ignore the times on my watch. My coach tells me this all the time! I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I think that I was trying so hard to not run too fast up the hills, followed by constantly checking my pace on the downhill, that I wore myself out mentally. Part of my rational for thinking this is that, even with the hills, I had the slowest average heart rate for any race that I have ever run! Would I have had a similarly bad outcome if I’d gone faster? Maybe, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I didn’t put it all out there.
  3. I wasn’t as ready for the hills as I’d thought. Over the past few months I’ve been doing lots of my long runs inland, where there are some good hilly courses (I live near the coast in CA). In the two months before the race the inland temperatures had climbed to the point that running would be difficult. So those last runs were along the coast where it is mostly flat. In retrospect I should have just move my runs up to the very early morning and kept hitting those hills.

    I also hadn’t realized that the true downhill portion wouldn’t commence until about mile 20. I have no excuse for this mistake! The course was changed slightly from previous years so it wasn’t exactly as I’d run it before but the final 10K was the same. I remember thinking at one point, “another @$#&^%$ climb!” I think my brain was more tired of slogging up those hills than my legs were.

  4. I didn’t have a contingency plan. I honestly thought I would ace this race and when that wasn’t happening I started to mentally check out. I bailed so thoroughly that I even had a little mimosa and a sip of beer when offered somewhere around mile 23!
  5. I’ve gained some weight since last summer. In fact I was at my lightest when I ran that half marathon last year. Pushing more pounds up those hills is certainly not easy…even if I’ve been having great strength training sessions and awesome runs. (The Never Ending Struggle with Weight is Downright Scary)

As I think about this more, I can see so many analogies to life. Sometimes we are surprised by the difficulties we encounter that we lose momentum and perform badly. At other times we surprise ourselves by how well we can do in the face of adversity. A benefit of endurance sport is that experiences like the San Francisco Marathon teach us about ourselves and thus prepare us to know that we can get through hard times…even if the getting through is not very pretty.

At the end, the race was just a race. One that taught me to better prepare myself mentally and physically.

But there’s more! There was something pretty cool that happened at this race and that story will be my next post. Stay tuned!

Training with a Group

In 2014 I ran my first marathon. It was hard. I trained alone. Mostly because I didn’t know any better. I did use an online training plan. It is one that adjusts itself to your current fitness and current goals. So as you improve it will automatically adjust workouts, distances, etc. They even have coaches available to answer questions. But it is not an actual, real, live, person as a coach. In retrospect I’d say this was a better than nothing approach to training.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 10.15.50 AM
I have no idea why my mileage peaked in June and not August. The race was at the beginning of September. My August mileage was 85.93 which was so incredibly insufficient!

But when I look back at my training volume for the months leading to that first marathon I’m amazed that I even completed the race. I was not running nearly enough volume! Unfortunately I no longer have access to the training log from this online plan, so I don’t know if I followed their plan as I should have. I do know however, that I am a stickler for following the plan that someone gives to me!

That first marathon (Ventura 2014) took me almost 6 hours! The exact time was 5:51:02:36. After the marathon I was so hot and tired that I almost fainted while taking a shower…and this was at least a couple hours later!

I also knew that I could do better. I initially set my sites on the Los Angeles Marathon…but didn’t train well enough and backed out a week before the race. I was neither physically nor mentally ready.

While on a vacation that included site seeing in Boston two weeks before their 2015 marathon, I signed up for a group training program for the 2015 Ventura Marathon.

I was nervous. I was excited. I was nervous.

The hardest part, for me, was joining the group. I’m an introvert mostly…or more descriptively I’m very shy and quiet when I join new groups. Eventually, as I get to know people, I overcome this. But I’ve always been painfully quiet when new in a group.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 10.16.13 AM
June 144, July 162 and August 177. Much better!

I did it and it was wonderful! I learned that the previous program had me attempting to run way too fast for my current fitness. I discovered that, with the right coaching, I could actually run much more volume. And most importantly, I joined a great running community and have so many new friends as a result.

That second marathon (Ventura 2015) was almost 45 minutes faster! The exact time was 5:04:36. That’s amazing results!

Now, three years and a Boston Marathon later, I get to help coach the very same program. It starts June 16th and I’m pretty excited!

If you’re in the Ventura area why don’t you join us! If you are farther away and want some online coaching let me know.

Untethering – Kind of, Maybe

The data can be helpful…but it’s not the only thing by far!
I confess I’m a running data addict. I like to look at the numbers produced by my Garmin both during and after a run. I used to equate fitness with speed, thus pushing myself to run just a bit faster, hitting a pace on my Garmin, regardless of feel, and then calling it “easy.”

After learning the importance of making easy runs truly easy, I switched from monitoring pace to monitoring heart rate. Keep it easy! This has worked to improve my running fitness, and to help me better run by effort. But I still check how I’m doing too often while running. The problem with being so wedded to the data is that we sometimes allow “the number” to dictate our performance.

In a race, this can be good and bad…depending on the data. A few examples:

  • While running my least enjoyable half marathon a couple years ago I struggled through the whole race…for a variety of reasons. The first of which was my Garmin telling me my “performance condition” was -4. This was deflating…my coach later said, “you need to turn that thing off!” I haven’t turned it off but I’ve since learned through experience that it will ALWAYS give a negative performance condition number when starting a run with a hill climb. Conversely you can get a very high positive number just by starting a run with a descent. Not helpful data.
  • For my third marathon, Surf City, I used a race predictor. This is a data screen that gives real time data to predict a finish time based upon current pace. I walk the water stations, so the prediction always readjusted during these walk breaks. At mile 18, the predicted finish while walking was just under 5 hours. My previous race was 5:04, so I was excited to see that I could walk the rest of the marathon and have a PR. In this case it was helpful. Race Recap – Surf City Marathon
  • I used the same race predictor in my fifth marathon, Carlsbad. This time my Garmin was so far off the course mileage that what I thought I was going to do and what I actually did was off by about 2 minutes. In the later miles this discouraged me so much that I had trouble finishing and missed my first attempt at a Boston qualifier by just over 4 minutes. My coach said, “you need to get rid of that data screen.”
  • In my sixth marathon I ditched the race predictor. But I did look at average pace and I knew what I needed for my Boston qualifier. I had a great run, but like everyone I had to dig deep for the end. I knew that if I could hold on I was “going to Boston.” In this case seeing the number on my Garmin helped. Mountains 2 Beach – Race Recap
  • While not the fastest, I believe that the San Francisco Half Marathon I ran in July was my best race. Seeing the pace on my watch seemed helpful, but in retrospect I think I could have run even better. I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon
  • So…all this to say that I’m going to try something new when I run my seventh marathon on Sunday. I’m going to put one data screen only on my Garmin. Distance. That’s it. I’m going to solely run by effort, by feel. It’s an experiment. I’m a bit afraid…that I’ll go too fast at the start, or go too slow at the start, or feel lost without my “average pace” data screen. I’ll report back on how it went.

Mora data…this was to remind me I was progressing towards my BQ goal even with a disappointing Carlsbad Marathon
Meanwhile, if you want to get started running, or find ways to be more disciplined in your running, let me know. I’d like to help.

Want to Run?

IMG_2896People often tell me they’d like to start running, “but…” Not everyone has the same “but,” however most reasons not to start are: “I have bad knees”; “I don’t have time”; “I hate running”; or “I’m too old.”

I understand all those reasons. I also understand that another reason, not usually expressed, is fear. Fear of what others will think…which is why we hear stories of people starting their running careers in the dark of night so nobody can see. Fear of failure…what if I can’t do it? Fear of the hard work.

The good news is that regardless of our excuses (that I want to, but) and regardless of our fears, most of us can start running. Of course actual knee injuries may preclude this form of exercise, but other than that, when properly executed running is not bad for our knees. And for those who struggle with sore knees, strength training will help (this helps us all regardless of the state of our knees).

As to time. Like anything important, we need to commit to it. Think of it as an investment into a healthier future. The added benefit is that stories are showing the mental and cognitive benefits of strenuous exercise like running. This means that incorporating even 30 minutes of exercise into your day will quite possibly help you be more efficient in your work.

One of the joys of running is getting out into nature and enjoying the beauty of the world.

Hate running? That’s a valid excuse… so try something else and get moving. Or, try running again but this time with a group and explore the social elements of running. Or, go out on your own and enjoy the meditative value of unplugging from the world.

Think you’re too old? No way! Maybe you have to start by walking. Actually I would advise all beginning runners to start by walking. Maybe you won’t be fast and that’s ok. It’s not about being fast, but rather it’s about moving. The older we are when we start, the harder it might be if we haven’t been moving. But the benefits to your health are innumerable.

As to fear… We all have fear at times. Sometimes it’s healthy. It can stop us from going overboard. Sadly it can also hinder us. But when we step into that fear and overcome it, we learn much about ourselves and are better equipped to face other challenges. I have a plaque that says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” There is much truth to this. So step outside of your fear and do it.

In five days I’ll be running my seventh marathon. It seems kind of crazy to think of this because I can still remember those early days:

  • when run-walking for 30 minutes was a hard effort;
  • then, that glorious day that I ran for 30 minutes and realized I’d forgotten to walk;
  • then, wanting to run a half marathon but not doing so because running 8 miles was so incredibly hard;
  • then, the joy of actually running that first half marathon;
  • then, the suffering as I ran my first marathon, not knowing if I was going to actually make it to the finish line because it was just that hard;
  • then, the joy of camaraderie when I joined a group training program;
  • followed by the frustration of feeling like I was inadequate because trying for that second marathon was so damn hard;
  • followed by the release experienced when my coach said, “it’s supposed to be hard.”
  • and so on…

If you want to get started, I want to help.

Overdoing It

IMG_4649Does this sound at all familiar? You’re on vacation. In the beautiful mountains. You don’t want to sit in your hotel room. You don’t really want to drive around all day. Because you’re now fit! You can easily do fun things, active things. So you decide a hike is in order.

But this is a strange place, to you that is, and you don’t know exactly where to hike. So you look online to find trails. And you do find trails…lots of trails (thank you AllTrails.com). These trails come with reviews and you read and read and read, to discover that the most common complaint on all the easy trails is “they’re crowded.”

You don’t want crowds so you decide on a moderate trail because moderate is just that, moderate. Meaning not hard! Of course, any trail called “Clayton Peak” can’t be too hard, right? It’s only 5.4 miles so easy peasy, right? Going for a hike is just active recovery the day after a half marathon that included a 4,000 ft elevation drop, right?

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 2.32.43 PMSo off we went. To hike to Clayton Peak, which is located in the Brighton Ski Area of Big Copper Canyon, between Park City and Salt Lake City. Just like my run the day before, this was a hike with beautiful scenery. Unlike my run from the day before, it was not all downhill. Rather it was a nice little climb of 1,700 ft.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 2.34.04 PMAs we took off and began the climb, my tired legs were thankful to be going up and not down. Of course we’d have to descend eventually, but I convinced myself that my quads, shins, and calves would be nice and loose by then.

The warning is for skiers to not go down the other side.

When we got close to the top we encountered a dirt road (fire road or maybe ski lift service road) and lost the trail. We assumed that the road was now the trail…and this was a correct assumption, except that we went right instead of left. Soon we found another single track trail and started climbing. But after a bit the trail seemed to disappear. So, I pulled out my phone to see where we were (the AllTrails app is cool in that it works with my phone’s GPS), and we had diverged from the trail when we took that right turn. I wish I had looked at it as we made the turn.


Anyway, we had to go back down. As we did so I discovered that my quads did not loosen up… they were TIRED and each step was a bit painful. But we made it down to the road and then went the other way, climbing again. A little way up the road in this direction I found the trail, this time confirming it on my phone. To get to the summit we’d only need to go another quarter mile.

We took this selfie close to but not at the summit.

But it was steep. I figured I could probably go up, but wasn’t too sure about coming back down. So I told Scott (husband) that I wasn’t going that last quarter mile. I’d wait for him if he wanted to finish. He chose to head down with me.


Our going back and forth at the top of the mountain increased our mileage a bit so that we then had a 3 mile descent. Oh, my poor tire legs! Even with the fatigue, the walk was enjoyable. I’ve discovered that when hiking, or running, the scenery is sometimes different on the return part of an out and back. This by the way, is a good reminder to look at things from more than one angle.

While descending I also started thinking about how much I was looking down at the trail. I’ve fallen three times in the last few months (well 2 falls were in the same run) and I’m trying to be careful so as not to do it again. I looked down so much, and I began to think about how I hoped this wouldn’t affect my running. I’m pretty sure the first instruction from the coach when I started going to track workouts was, “look up”. I’ve learned to look up when I run. So although I was hiking I was also thinking about my need to look down so much.

Unbelievably, while I was entertaining these thoughts, I tripped! I fell! Bam! Hitting my chin so hard that I gave myself a 2 day headache (thankfully it was not worse).

The offending tree root. I should have looked from the other side to see how hidden it may have looked from that angle. Anyway you can see the disturbance in the dirt made by my legs.



Scott heard me and returned to find me picking myself up. Thankfully I didn’t break anything. I rinsed the blood off my arm as I’d scraped that pretty well, and continued down the mountain.

So what happened? Am I suddenly becoming extremely clumsy? Maybe. I will have my eyes checked and I’ll ask my eye doctor if my particular contact lens prescription is causing an issue with depth perception.

But maybe I was just tired. Maybe I should have chosen the “easy” and short hike to do on tired legs. I’m actually pretty sure this is the case. I will confess that I over did it that day.

Maybe I’ll have to start counting days: “I’ve gone ___ this many days without falling while running (or hiking). I had a good run last night so I’m up to 1 day!

When have you overdone it?

Here were some cool bridges…tree branches (or trunks)