August 14, 2014

Balboa Park 8 Mile Race Recap

When I sign up for a race, I usually do my due diligence. More often than not, it's a race I've heard of before, and know something about.  If it's a new race, or new-to-me race, I try to find out some essentials---course, elevation, etc---before shelling out money to sign up.  For some reason, though, I did none of this when it came to the Balboa Park 8 Miler.  I saw an ad on Facebook for this race, which is put on by the San Diego Track Club.  It was ridiculously cheap---only $35 for an 8 mile race, including a t-shirt and medal.  As I'd never done a race of that distance before, and love running in Balboa Park, I immediately signed up. 
After I paid, I did some research, and found a few bloggers that had recapped last year's race.  The salient features that people were writing about were the HILLS and the TRAILS.  What?  I used to run in Balboa Park quite frequently---in fact, I did much of my marathon training there in 2003--and never ran on hills that were THAT steep.  Or trails.  Turns out, I ran in the wrong part of the park.  Balboa Park has a lot of hills, and a lot of trails, and that was where the race was to be.  I had a brief moment of consideration to drop down to the 5k, but I knew I could do this race.  After all, a year and a half ago I did the Xterra Mission Gorge 15k, and THAT will always be my benchmark of how difficult trails and hills could be. If I could do that race, I could do this. Plus, this race wasn't even going to be entirely on trail, just part of it.  I consulted with my friend Mihael, who did the Xterra race with me, and he reminded me of the best way to get down hills, and basically boosted my confidence.  The Xterra Race, and frankly most of my recent athletic endeavors, including my two half -Ironman races, and my century ride---have given me a feeling of fearlessness,  that I could do anything. I may be one of the slowest, and it may not look pretty, but I can do anything I train to do.

packet pickup

Race day came and I made my way down to Balboa Park.  I easily found parking  I hadn't gone to packet pickup the day before, so I went to the registration table. It wasn't crowded, and the vibe was very low-key.  In a way, it reminded me of the Xterra race---just a chill vibe in the air, without the feeling of frenzy that often comes with the big races.  Because I had parked so close, I was able to go back to the car to put my t-shirt away, relax for a bit, then make my way to the port-o-potties and start line.  The 8 milers were to go first, followed by the 5k runners a while after that.

start line
The race started. I turned on my iPod and started out.  The weather was perfect---absolutely perfect for running.  While it was a bit muggy, the sun never made an appearance from behind the clouds. In fact, soon after the race ended it started to rain, which is odd for August in San Diego, but much needed. The first few miles were on a combination of pavement and groomed trails, nothing technical at all.  Soon we made our way into the depths of Balboa Park---and found the hills.

before the race

For anyone who is reading this and contemplating doing this run, let me assure you the hills aren't that bad. Yes, they are on trail. Yes, they are relatively steep.  But they are not THAT steep, and certainly not that long. Nowhere near some other hills I have done (I'm specifically thinking of not only the Xterra race, but the Washington hill during the San Diego Half, a big hill during the Hollywood Half, and Torrey Pines during the La Jolla Half). It was very doable. Now, I fully admit that I walked up and down every hill, which was in my plan (I have a hard time running hills, it usually irritates my sciatic nerve)....but I saw many people running them.  And, the best part for me was that although they were trail, they weren't slippery, meaning that I wasn't slipping and sliding on the descent.  Sadly, I didn't take pictures during the race, but really, they weren't bad.

After a few miles on the trails, we were on a back on a sidewalk, and then grass, heading toward the zoo for the turnaround.  Here we had to run in the zoo parking lot, which was partially blocked off, but not too much of a worry since it was so early.  Back to the trails, running back the same way we came, until the finish line, which was by the Air and Space Museum/Puppet Theater in Balboa Park.  They announced my name as I crossed, I received a medal, and was offered water and fruit. A very low-key ending to a very low-key race.  The course was a bit long---my Garmin measured 8.18, and believe me, I was muttering to myself  "where the heck is the finish line?"--but that was ok.  I was done.

bling bling medal
I was very proud of myself for a few reasons. Obviously, I was proud of myself for finishing---it was definitely on the tougher side, and I finished strong. I wasn't last by a long-shot, and even in my age group there were many women finishing after me. I don't care TOO much about my time, especially for a trail race at an unusual distance,  but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care if I was last.  But more important, I was proud of myself for starting the race in the first place. It would have been so easy for me to downgrade to the 5k, and not even see those hills.  I knew I could tackle them, and I did. 

While I don't know if I'd do this race again, I can definitely say I recommend it.  It's a great mixture of trail, concrete, grass and asphalt, which is fun.  The views are beautiful.  And I cannot say enough about the volunteers.  They were not only at aid stations, but sprinkled throughout the park, making sure we didn't get lost.  The trail was clearly marked, which was good because there were a few times no one was in front of me to follow.  The San Diego Track Club put on a great event.

July 31, 2014

Broadway Lovers

In March 2010 I took my son, D, to his first play. It was "Pippi Longstocking", a production put on by the local children's theater, the San Diego Junior Theatre.  He was almost 6 years old at the time. I saw an ad in one of those local free children's magazines, and thought it would be a fun thing to do with him.

Little did I know that 4 years later theater, especially musical theater, would be one of our great bonding experience.  For a few years, we would choose a few plays from the Junior Theatre to go to; last year I gave in and bought season tickets, as we had started to go to more and more of the shows.  While it's a children's theater, their caliber of execution is amazing----the acting, props, costume and choreography are simply amazing.  We have seen too many shows there to count, including "Beauty and the Beast", "Guys and Dolls", and "The Sound of Music".

In recent years we started to branch out to other theaters in San Diego; why limit ourselves just to the Junior Theatre? I "liked" the Facebook pages of most of the theaters all over town, from downtown to Coronado to Oceanside.  As a result, we have gotten to see some really neat productions, including "Cats", "Annie Get Your Gun", "Seussical the Musical", "Annie" and "Into the Woods". Actually we have seen so many shows over the past 4 years that I truly can't remember them all.  While I would love to take him to more shows at the magestic Civic Theatre, those tickets are very expensive and therefore we only see shows there that I feel we cannot miss (i.e. I'm trying to get tickets to take him to see "Wicked" there).

Musical theater is something I didn't expect to have in common with my son, but, like running and reading, it's something I delight in sharing.  A few weeks ago we were waiting to see "Thoroughly Modern Millie", and in the program was an ad for Les Miserables.  I asked him if he wanted to see it. He looked me in the eye, and said, "Mama, I want to see ALL the plays.".  A boy after my own heart.  We saw "Les Mis" last week.  We have also rented some musicals to watch on tv, and if I am able to rent the soundtrack from the library, we like to listen to the songs on the way home from the show.

Growing up, I didn't go to the theater too often, but the times I did really stick out in my mind. I remember my parents taking me to the big theaters in Los Angeles to see Cats, Pirates of Penzance and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  My mother furthered my love for musicals by renting movies such as "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!" for me and my sisters while I was in my teens.  These memories with my parents will always be with me---and I hope my son has the same warm memories when he gets older. 

I have taken my daughter to a few plays as well, and have tickets for some in the coming months, but she doesn't have the love for it (yet) that my son has.  If she develops that passion, I'll include her more as well.  In the meantime, I'm really enjoying my one-on-one time with my boy---and seeing some great live theater to boot!

July 15, 2014

Costume Party Run Half Marathon Race Recap

This past weekend I completed my 21st half marathon (that is, stand-alone half marathon; I'm not counting the half marathons I did at the end of each of my two half-Ironmans).  It was called the Costume Party Run.  Last year was the inaugural year race, and this year was apparently the last year, only in year two.  I was interested in doing it last year, but was injured and never signed up.  After reading recaps about how fun it was, I was determined to do it this year.

I didn't even know if I would get to the start line.  I hadn't done a stand-alone half marathon since AFC last August. Right after that race I started to train for my second half-Ironman, California Oceanside 70.3, and my coach basically forbade me from doing a half marathon in the meantime (to be fair, if I really wanted to do one, he would have made the training plan adjustments, but he didn't feel it was worth the potential risk of injury---and I agreed.  Half marathons happen all the time; the half-Ironman was too important to me to take any risks).  During the run portion at Oceanside I injured myself yet again---on top of my usual sciatic pain, caused by a herniated disc, and on-and-off plantar fasciitis, I suddenly developed some Achilles pain.  It worsened  in subsequent runs after that triathlon, and I ended up taking seven full weeks off running to try to heal. After that, I finally saw a podiatrist who diagnosed me with mild Achilles tendinopathy, prescribed me medicine and stretches, and told me I could run.  I finally started running again during the first week of June, which really only gave me six weeks to not only train for a half marathon, but to build up from basically nothing (it's humbling how quickly running fitness can be lost, and seven full weeks of no running set me way back).  Luckily I had been biking and swimming a lot, so while my running legs were gone I still had my cardiac fitness.  I built up slowly, only getting in two long runs of any sort---one that was six miles and a ten-miler the week before the race.

I decided I was trained enough to complete the race, and didn't care about my finishing time. I knew I wouldn't come near a PR (I'd have to get 2:28 for a PR) and just hoped to come in under 3 hours.  My average time for half marathons ranges between 2:30-2:40, but my last two half marathons, AFC and La Jolla, were at about 3 hours because I was in so much pain that I walked much of each. I truthfully didn't care about my time here---I only wanted to finish strong with a smile on my face, having fun.

Not only did I have to train for this race, I had to find a costume! That was the point of the Costume Run---to be in costume!  I didn't really want to spend a lot of money on a costume, and tried to think of something low-cost.  Additionally, I wanted something that would not only be easy to run in, but not too hot---after all, we'd be running in July in San Diego. I settled on Little Red Riding Hood. I borrowed a Riding Hood cape from a girlfriend, paired it with a black tank and black running shorts with a skirt over them, and found some adorable socks.  With my hair in braided pigtails, that would have to do.  It definitely wasn't the most creative costume out there, but at least I was dressed up.

Packet pickup was the day before at Road Runner Sports. There was no expo at all, just pick-up. I got there on the later side, and avoided all lines.  They gave me a bib, timing chip and cap---no shirts for this race, but the hat was a welcome change.

The race started at Qualcomm Stadium at 6:30 in the morning.  Because I didn't know how bad traffic would be (I was remembering the awful traffic getting off the freeway and into the stadium from the Bolt to the Q race a few years ago) I left my house at 5:10.  I got there by 5:25, had no traffic, and was in my parking spot by 5:30.  Oh well---I'd rather be early and waiting in my car listening to music than stuck in traffic worrying about missing the start of the race! I waited until 6:15, then got out of my car, met my friend Ingrid, who was doing the 10k, and waited for the start.

Ingrid and I pre-race

start line ahead

And we were off!  From the start, I followed a Galloway plan of 90 seconds running/30 seconds walking. I was able to stick to this plan the entire way, except once in the last mile when I had to walk a bit more.  The course started at Qualcomm Stadium, looped around for over a mile in the parking lot, then went out-and-back on Friars Road before coming back to circle the parking lot again.  Kind of a boring course---mostly flat with very few mild rollers---except for the costumes.  That was awesome!  Because of the out-and-back aspect, we got to see so many costumes.  There was also a 5k and 10k component to this race, and I'm assuming that most of the warmer costumes I saw were for runners doing the shorter distances---although I saw people doing the half marathon in costumes that I would have overheated in at mile one!

Although there were lots of the usual superheroes in this race, I was impressed by people's creativity.  I wished I took more pictures along the course, but here's just a sampling of what people wore:

a manly Marilyn Monroe

loved these cookie monsters!

where's Waldo?

the mighty Isis!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Indiana Jones---loved the spiders!

these kids were the Scarecrow, Glinda, Dorothy and Tin Man!

In 'n' Out workers

not a costume, but this running group all wore these inspirational shirts

from Mario brothers

a FULL giraffe costume!

no words to describe this Sumo wrestler running in the heat!
It did get too hot for me.  It started at 6:30, and the first several miles were wonderful with a cloud cover, but by mile 6 the sun was out in full force. I drank all the Gatorade I had on me, and used the aid stations not only for hydration but to dump water on me.  My pace definitely slowed a lot, although I was unaware of my pace---for the first time ever in a race, I set my Garmin screen to only show time elapsed and distance run. I didn't want to know my pace.  But aside from the heat, I had fun!  I LOVED seeing all the costumes, I had a great new updated playlist of music, and my run/walk ratio was really working for me!

The only thing that was bad was that I chafed for the first time!  It was the first time I've chafed since I started running in 1998!  The only thing I can think of was that the humidity made my thighs more sticky. I wear these shorts all the time, and in fact had worn then the previous week during my 10-miler.  I ended the race with blood between my thighs from the rubbing. Ouch! I've never used Body Glide while running, I only use it for my wetsuit, but I think next time it's this hot and humid outside I need to apply it to my thighs.

Also, my Garmin clocked the course at about 12.7 miles, not quite 13.1  At that point, when I was so hot and tired, I didn't care that it was short, but the reality is it should have been longer.  My finishing time isn't quite accurate, as the course is wrong.  But, I was on pace for a 2:43 finish, which, considering my lack of training and the heat is great for me.  I was also in minimal pain. I love the Galloway run/walk method--it's really been helping me out.

They billed the medal as the "world's biggest half marathon medal". While I can't vouch if that's true or not, I can say with absolute certainty that it is huge. It dwarfs the biggest medals I have on my rack. Just take a look!

that's my hand in the background. Look how big this thing is!

struggling to hold up the medal after the race

After the race, I got my medal, some Gatorade, and a bottle of water pulled from an ice bucket. Ahhhh! Just what I needed!  They also gave me four different kinds of treats (ie granola bars, biscuits, etc).  I thought it was a well-organized race, although I did hear that there were no clear directions for the 5k so people may have ended up running longer, which is no good. I DID see a clear turn-around for the 10k folks.

This is the last year of this race, but apparently they are going to do something else instead.  I'll bet there will be costumes involved---the people that put this race on, Super Hero events, always puts on costume-themed races, like the Hollywood Half Marathon and Awesome 80's Run.  I hope to check out whatever new race they put on!