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!

Run in this heat? Yes!

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 9.40.21 AMConsistency. Showing up. Getting it done.

These words have been my mantra the past couple days. Officially I’m tapering for the San Francisco Marathon (July 29), but that doesn’t mean all running stops. It just gets easier, or at least it should.

So far this week I’m not feeling it. Instead I’m feeling hot, sweaty, tired, and cranky. I don’t like the heat! Well actually the high temperatures are not that bad as compared to others places…but their higher (86 yesterday) than is normal for us! Making it worse is the humidity. Right now it’s 77%…we’re not supposed to have 77% humidity!

I think the real problem is that the heat is trapped and we’re not getting our nightly cool down. As you can see in my photo, our low should be a nice cool mid-50 degrees this time of year. Instead we’re hanging out in the high to mid 70s. This makes good sleep in our non air-conditioned home elusive.

So that’s my whining!

Yesterday I woke up and thought, “it’s too hot to run.” Then I drank my coffee, changed my clothes, and did my 7 miles. My method for keeping my easy runs easy is to use my heart rate as a guide. My goal is to stay between 130-140 bpm. Yesterday my average HR was 133. My average pace was 9:51. Not bad for a hot morning!

At lunch time, I needed to do a strength workout. I do these in the gym at the back of my local running store, and there is no air conditioning at the back of the store! I thought all morning, “maybe I’ll just do it tomorrow.” But tomorrow (today now) I have a massage scheduled, so better get it done! Other than sweating so much that I could see wet spots all over the floor, the workout went well. Yeah!

Last night I went to bed hot. Woke in the middle of the night hot. Woke up this morning hot. I sat with my morning coffee (too bad I don’t like iced coffee!) and thought, “gonna have to skip today’s run.” I even had a second cup, which I never do before running.

fullsizeoutput_10aa.jpegAnd as I drank that second cup I remembered Des Linden’s advice, “keep showing up.” I thought about the inspirational Western States Endurance Race where athletes ran 100 miles in temperatures that topped 100 degrees. With these thoughts, I put the coffee down, changed clothes, and set off on my easy 5 miles. It went well!

Consistency. Showing up. Getting it done.

That’s what it’s all about. In running. In life.

Happy Tuesday.

It’s More than Running – Boston Marathon Training Week 4

Here is a list of what’s important from The San Francisco Marathon…good advice here.

To be a good runner, to be a healthy runner, you need to do more than run. I’ve learned this over the years and am fairly diligent in incorporating those other things that are so important. Here is my list of the necessities for good training:

  1. A good (and flexible) plan. The challenge about generic training plans is that each of us is unique. We each have different challenges and we each respond to stimuli in different ways. I’m thankful that I’ve found a coach who guides me well. Of course a generic plan is better than no plan, but I’d advise you to keep if flexible when life intervenes.
  2. Strength work. Strength training is necessary for at least two reasons: injury prevention and performance improvement. There are lots of good resources out there for putting together your own plan. Two books that I recommend are: “Build Your Running Body” by Pete Magill, and “Anatomy for Runners” by Jay Dicharry (he also recently published “Running Rewired”, I have it but haven’t read it yet).
  3. Recovery work. Rest is important. Sleep is important. Working out the kinks in our muscles is important. And sometimes these all go together, so that when you can’t sleep because your muscles are aching, better than a pill is some relaxing time with the foam roller and some gentle stretching. The above referenced books also have good suggestions here. Personally I count yoga, and some mobility exercises as recovery work too.
  4. Healthy Diet. I wrote more about this last week but one cannot emphasize too often the importance of healthy eating. I don’t think one can emphasize enough that fad diets are unhealthy diets. The best advice I’ve read (or heard) is to eat good food and not too much of it. If you want to read about this, try Matt Fitzgerald’s “Racing Weight” or “The Endurance Diet.

I’m happy to report that I’ve done a pretty good job in all these areas this week. What about you? Where do you struggle? What would you add?

Here’s my training log for the past week:

Nancy Switzler Workouts: 1/7/2018 – 1/13/2018

Sunday, January 7, 2018 Rest Day

7:30 AM Yoga
Completed: 1:00:00
My before church Sunday routine usually includes 30-60 minutes of gentle yoga. It helps me to center and prepare for the morning.
Monday, January 8, 2018
7:21 AM 6 Miles Easy
Planned: 6 mi
Completed: 6 mi ~ 1:01:25 (10:13 min/mi)
8:30 AM Strength & Mobility
Core & Strength Level 2
2 Sets of the following sequence with ~ 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.
15 squats; 20 sec. plank; 10 push ups; 20 Crunches; 10 lunges on each leg; 20 sec. plank; 10 calf drops on each leg; 20 Sit-Ups
Completed: 24:00
Workout Comments: Substituted 1-legged deadlifts (10 each leg, 2 sets) for one set of plank
Tuesday, January 9, 2018 Rest Day
Strength & Mobility- Hip prehab plus
Three sets each: Bridges (3 types); clamshells w/band (3 types); pushups; gentle stretch and roll
Completed: 20:00
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
5:43 PMRun – Lactate Threshold
2.5 Mile Threshold Run
Planned: 7 mi
2.5 Miles Easy
2.5 Miles @ Threshold Pace
2 Miles Easy
Completed Easy Run: 2.5 mi ~ 25:44 (10:16 min/mi)
Completed Threshold Pace: 2.5 mi ~ 21:30 (8:35 min/mi)
Interestingly my watch recorded my heart rate as 170 for the last mile of my run. This is near max for me and there is no way my actual heart rate was this high. If it were I would not have been able to complete the run. I have a new watch with wrist based monitoring. I remember that part way through the run my heart rate seemed a bit low…so I tried to tighen the wristband while running. I must have loosened it instead. Dumb. My advice is to not worry about this date while actually running! 
Completed Easy: 2.01 mi ~ 20:34 (10:15 min/mi)
Strength & Mobility – Hip prehab short
Post track workout relaxation: 1 set bridges (3 types) and clamshells with band (3 types) followed by stretching and foam rolling.
Completed: 20:00
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Strength & Mobility – Core & Strength Level 2
2 Sets of the following sequence with ~ 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.
2 Sets of the following sequence with ~ 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.
15 squats; 20 sec. plank; 10 push ups; 20 Crunches; 10 lunges on each leg; 20 sec. plank; 10 calf drops on each leg; 20 Sit-Ups
Completed: 20:00
I also lead an hour long gentle stretch and prayer class at my church on Thursdays. I count it as recovery work.
Walk – Completed: 5.5 mi ~ 1:53:15 (20:36 min/mi)
This walk (actually a hike) was not assigned by my coach. I was actually checking out a trail for a hike I will be leading for church on the 20th
Friday, January 12, 2018
8:29 AM5 Miles Easy – Planned: 5 mi
Completed: 5.06 mi ~ 1:00:54 (12:01 min/mi)
Workout Comments:
I did a trail run of the previous day’s hike…because I got lost the day before and so needed to learn more about the trail. It was a nice trail run. I’m thinking this might be a good run to repeat as strength work. The hills were challenging but not so much so that I had to walk…well, just a couple times. 😊
I got in some nice hill work during yesterday’s 14 mile long run. The first hill did not seem as steep as the elevation profile shows.




lt; /div>
Saturday, January 13, 2018
7:35 AM14 Mile Long Run – Planned: 14 mi
Nice & Easy
Completed: 14.01 mi ~ 2:28:34 (10:36 min/mi)
Workout Comments:div><
I felt pretty good, but my legs were more fatigued than usually…probably because of the hilly trail run the day before.< em>Interesting tidbit. Ever since my watch erroneously said my heart rate was 170 for part of my workout at track, the daily training status has been “maintaining.” Prior to this it was “improving.” It seems as if my watch thinks I’m overtraining because after this morning’s run it now says, “unproductive.” Maybe it was the combination of the high heart rate on Wednesday and running hills. Hopefully it will be happy after tomorrow’s rest day.
Completed Cross Training: 1:00:00< strong>Completed Walk: 6.04 mi ~ 2:03:53< strong>Planned Run: 32.00 mi // Completed Run: 32.09 mi ~ 5:38:42< strong>Completed Strength & Mobility: 1:24:00
Happy Training…13 weeks until race day!

I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon

Going in reverse order we ran the 2nd half of this race a year ago. We chose the 2nd half because my son wanted to finish near the baseball stadium…and, being a net downhill it was an easier course. The plan was to run the 1st half this year, and possibly the full marathon in 2018.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as time and how I would feel during the race. I didn’t have much training under my belt for this particular race. Most of June was spent recovering from Mountains 2 Beach (Race Recap). My longest run before this race was an easy 12 miles.

I also wondered about the hills. While the first part of the course is flat, we climb a steep hill to the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of the race is up and down. I’ve often struggled (more than most) in running uphill. Historically, I am usually passed by “everyone” on the uphill and then I regain my standing while flying downhill at a faster pace than those around me. I was nervous about running too hard in the flat areas only to collapse on those hills.

In conversing with my coach, he thought I should aim for a 2:03, recognizing that while I am fit, its a hard course and I haven’t done any specific training for the race. I looked at a pace chart that had paces for this particular course, so I had an idea of what I would need to do each mile (average would be 9:23 per mile). Mile 6 would be the hardest.

IMG_4394Race morning was absolutely beautiful. The sky was clear and the Bay Bridge was stunning in the predawn light. The temperature was in the mid 60s. I felt good in my warm-up. I was ready for a no pressure, enjoy the sights run.

The first third of the race felt like a warmup. My body wanted to pick up the speed, but I was a bit nervous about those hills! Since we were running with those doing the full marathon, this was probably the most crowded race I’ve run to date (27,000 runners among all races). We had one little hill at Fort Mason. I took it easy, yet discovered that I’m no longer the slowest runner up the hill. Not the fastest, for sure, but this was a nice surprise. Yeah strength training and hill work!

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 1.38.53 PM
Race data from the first third. Average pace of 9:04 wasn’t to bad as I had been hoping to average 9:23.

There was a woman running near me who was my age of a bit older, I couldn’t tell for sure. She had a fanny pack and something in it that sounded like peanuts in a can. Clink Clink Clink Clink…in a steady rhythm. It was annoying. Clink Clink Clink Clink. I passed her before that first baby hill, but then she caught up. Clink Clink Clink Clink. I  had to speed up to get away from that noise.


As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, the weather was noticeably cooler. It was foggy, and to my surprise it was windy. I chatted with another runner about what a wonderful morning it was! We both agreed the coolness was great but we could do without the wind.

GG bridge
Foggy, wet, windy, crowded, fun

The middle third of the race was the most challenging. This included the climb up to, over the bridge, and back again. It was so foggy that visibility was about 20-30 feet and everything was wet, very wet. There were slippery spots on the bridge and I was very careful so as not to slip and fall. I saw one person go down, but I think the crowd around her just picked her up again. The bridge was the most crowded part of the entire run.

The hardest part of this section was the wind. As we approached the northern side of the bridge, the wind was stronger and stronger…a man in front of me lost his hat in the wind and my husband lost a lens out of his sunglasses. I felt the wind push me from the side. At the turnaround we caught a glimpse of the sun, but then quickly ran back into the fog and wind.

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 1.39.53 PM
Data from the middle section. I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was doing. I can run hills!


GG park rd
Coming out of the heavy fog…running one a many hills

The final third. After leaving the Golden Gate Bridge we had another nice hill to climb, followed by rolling hills to the end. At some point in this section I realized that if I could hold my pace, I would finish in under 2 hours. That was nice incentive. The only race I’ve so far done in less than 2 hours is a flat, slight sloping downhill race in Oxnard (Santa to the Sea). Last year I did the easier, 2nd half of San Francisco in 2:04:51!


Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 1.40.49 PM
Final section. I had more to give because my average heart rate usually gets into the 160s and I wasn’t there yet.

When I discovered that my Garmin was not going to match the course I didn’t let it phase me, but pushed harder and finished in 1:59:37 (Garmin read 13.26 for distance). This was not an official PR, but in terms of course difficulty, it was the best half marathon I’ve ever run. I even finished 10th in my division (out of 267). I had so much fun I’m going to do the full next year…and get a Club 52.4 Hoodie!

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 3.07.18 PM
This is the data for the entire race. I’m thankful that I can get this kind of cool analysis from Final Surge.
Oops! A bit of technical difficulty for the race organizers. They did a great job…and had coffee with Baileys for us after we finished.

A few more photos…

Two medals, for doing both halves in back to back years. We went back to the bridge for a slightly non-foggy photo
I was all smiles at the end of this race!!!!
Scott and I enjoying a post-race beer. He had a good day too!

The San Francisco Half Marathon, 2nd Half – A recap

This was my first destination race and my first really big (as in participants) race. My husband, son, daughter and I all ran, which is a really great family activity. You can choose from two half marathons, which basically means running either the first or second half of the marathon. We chose the second half which started in Golden Gate Park and finished at the Embarcadero. This was a very well organized race.

Before the race:

In April I injured the hamstring on my left leg and for the last few months I’ve been

Golden Gate Park

slowly getting better. In June I re-irritated it when running a 5k race. By the end of July I could say it was mostly better. But then, I tried too hard at a track workout and injured my right hamstring. Needless to say, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to race. If it were just me, maybe I would have stayed home. But we all went for a bit of a vacation. As we drove the course I thought, “oh those hills, both up and down, are gonna hurt!” I fully anticipated needing to walk down the steepest grades to avoid pain.

My daughter, Megan in front of the starting area. She had a good race too!

First Third:

I very much enjoyed running through Golden Gate Park. I had decided that rather than focus on my injury, I’d just enjoy the scenery and it was beautiful. This ended up being a very good strategy. The race was uphill for the first 3-1/2 miles, which was a bit scary. Much to my surprise these miles passed rapidly and I did the best hill climbing ever (it helps that my chiropractor has me exercising my glutes, hamstrings, and hips every day!) Getting through the hills pain free was definitely a confidence booster.

Middle Section

SFM stop looking down
Seriously… if you ever see me running with my head down tell me to look up! I’ve been trying to correct this for so long it’s annoying to see a photo like this.

What goes up must come down and down we went, through the streets of San Francisco. Still focusing on the views I saw all kinds of cool people along the course. One homeless man was lying on a bus bench and shouting encouragement to the runners as they passed by. Runners gave lots of high-fives to police officers working the course. One man offered red vines (candy) to any who wanted to partake. Some of the downhills were steep, and much to my surprise I was able to run them. I almost witnessed a big collision as a runner decided to tackle the steep downhill as if it were a ski run. This was not the best idea because she ran right in front of a much faster runner. Lesson: never forget that there are runners coming up behind you.


Final Third:

SFM power shot
Still looking down a bit but I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the finish line.

This was the flattest part of the course and I had planned to try and run a steady 9:30 pace (and actually did a bit better). There were more spectators and I almost crashed into a woman who decided to ride her bicycle on to the course. Thankfully I saw her in time to stop running! Others who witnessed this near collision yelled at her.


In this section spectators offered beer, tequila, and watermelon. The best par was that I was able to slowly and steadily pass runners. I finished in 2:04:51 which is a new personal record.

Next year we’re doing the first half, followed by the full in two years… at least that’s the plan for now.

SFM approaching finish line