December 20, 2013

Divas 5k Race Recap

Back in March, when I was at the expo for the San Diego Half Marathon, I came across a booth for the Divas Half Marathon.  It looked like a fun, women-centered race.  It promised a boa and tiara station before the finish line so you can finish like a diva, a rose and bubbly at the end, and your blinged-out medal given out by shirtless hunks.  I thought it looked like a blast, and, as I had no half marathons on my race schedule past August, decided to sign up. I convinced my friend Ingrid to sign up with me; it would be a fun girls' weekend up in Ontario (about an hour and a half north of San Diego).

But...I've been injured.  And while my herniated disc is MUCH better, I haven't been training enough to run a half marathon.  I could have muddled through, as I did at the America's Finest City Half Marathon in August, but I didn't want to risk injuring myself further.  I have my eye on the prize:  my second half-Ironman in March.  Everything I do now is for that.  With that in mind, I made the responsible decision to downgrade from the half marathon to the 5k.  Ingrid, too, has been injured, and downgraded to the 5k as well.

The day before the race was a dreary, rainy Saturday.  Ingrid and I drove up and parked at our hotel, the Doubletree, which happened to be the host hotel. This was the best choice of lodging because it was literally right next to the convention center, where the expo was, and right next to the start/finish lines of the race. And it was a nice hotel to boot!  We parked and immediately walked next door to the expo where we picked up our packets and adorable bright pink tech shirts.  The bibs were all personalized with "Diva XXX" (insert your name where the XXX is). It was a small but nice expo. Actually there were a few vendors there I hadn't seen before, with the most adorable running tops.  But as I was on a strict budget, I resisted. I did allow myself two treats:  two keychains, which were only $1 each.  I got one that says "runner girl" and one that has a swim/bike/run picture. 

After the expo, we had an early dinner and made a quick stop at Target for Ingrid to buy some cheap disposable gloves.  It was cold!  The projected temperature for the morning was around 40 degrees, which by San Diego standards is very chilly.  Back to the hotel room to read and relax---and get some sleep.

In the morning, we woke up earlier than we would have because I was supposed to run a mile as a warmup before the 5k. In fact, I had 7 miles on the agenda for the day, as prescribed by my coach (which I'll write about another time).  Ingrid agreed to come with me, so we bundled up and headed out the door.  As we ran, we ran by lots of women coming to the race, walking from their cars.  This is where staying at the host hotel came in handy--we were literally right at the start line.  Our 1 mile run truly lived up to it's name: by the time we came back to the hotel we were very warm, and I decided to not to wear my hat or ear warmers during the actual race. We did put on our sparkle skirts though---I mean, it WAS the Divas race!

Before we headed back down to line up for the 5k, I watched out the window as the half marathon was getting underway. I'm not going to lie---I was bummed. I was sad I was not part of that. I LOVE the half marathon distance. But, at the same time, I was very proud of myself for making the healthy choice to downgrade. At least I was still able to participate, and get a good run in.

Soon we went back downstairs and lined up for the 5k. Even though there were signs for different paces, no one was paying attention.  At the very front were a bunch of ladies who, when the horn blew, started walking, and walking SLOWLY, four abreast!  Not cool.

start line

Regardless, I was able to take off past them with a lot of weaving.  Soon I was running hard, similar to how I ran in the last 5k I did by myself (virtually every 5k I do is with my 9 year old son, at his pace). It's one thing to run/walk with him, but doing 3.1 at a faster pace for me (my fastest half marathon was an 11:22 pace) makes me want to throw up. Glancing at my Garmin, I was consistently running in the low 10's, even the 9's at times.  I did take a few walk breaks, as I couldn't sustain those paces, but for the most part kept it up.

While the course was nothing spectacular (city streets), the finish was fun. Right as I got close to the finish line volunteers were handing out plastic tiaras and bright pink feather boas. Total diva-ish. I put mine on, losing a few seconds when my tiara fell off and I had to retrieve it. I heard them call my name as I neared the finish line.  With a finish time averaging about a 10:45 pace, I was very pleased with myself.  Not my fastest 5k, but considering my fastest 5k had been a few weeks after my half-Ironman and I was in peak shape, I'll take it!  Right after I crossed, I was handed my medal (not as blinged-out as the half marathon medal, but still very nice and pretty) by a shirtless guy with great abs, a white rose, and a plastic champagne glass filled with sparkling cider. That was very cool.

post-race decked out in my bling

After the race I found Ingrid (who was just a few minutes behind me) and we went back to the hotel. I shed my medal, etc and headed out for another 3 mile run, making 7 for the day.  All in all, a great day of running.

Some thoughts about the race:
  • This race was very fun.  The best part was all the women.  It was obvious this was the first race (5k or half marathon) for many women, which was so awesome to see.  I saw a group of elderly ladies on the course---literally, one was pushing a walker.  I saw them again as I headed out on my post-race run; they were still out there heading toward the finish line, laughing and having a good time.  I also saw a woman with a walker; it appeared she had cerebral palsy or another movement disorder.  She was doing the 5k one step at a time, with her friend who was morbidly obese, also doing it one step at a time. I was so proud of them both.  And, while it was mostly women, I did see some men on both the 5k and half marathon courses. Each one was was wearing pink, whether it was a pink shirt or pink tutu. I loved their brave spirit!
  • I heard they had some logistical problems in other cities like DC, but here it seemed pretty flawless, at least for the 5k (I can't speak for the half marathon). That said, two things could be improved upon.  The 5k started 10 minutes past the advertised start time.  While 10 minutes isn't awful, if it were very hot, or any colder than it was, it would be.  Also, right after the runners cross the finish they are shuttled into a line for posed pictures against their Diva backdrop.  I didn't want a picture, and waited for a while before I realized I could move past the other people waiting.  There should be an exit for those runners just wanted to leave and not get a picture.
  • I loved the volunteers!  There was one water stop, which the runners passed twice. Each time I yelled out "thanks for volunteering", and, in unison, they all yelled back "thanks for running!"
  • When I saw the finish line up ahead, when I was mile 3 and still had 1/10 of a mile to go, I felt like I wanted to just stop and walk. I realized this is the case for me at all races!  Regardless of the distance (5k through half marathon) or type of race (road race or triathlon) when I see the finish line I feel tired and nauseous...literally, I usually have to talk myself through not throwing up!  I realize this is all mental, as I'm usually fine until I see the finish line. I need to do some exploring to figure out just why my mind wants to give up, and it affects me so much physically, with only 1/10 mile to go.
All in all, a fantastic race. I will likely not do this race again, as it's not very convenient in terms of travel, but I do recommend it. Very fun, and all the touches to make each women feel like a diva pay off.

December 6, 2013

Oceanside Turkey Trot 5k Race Recap

San Diego has not one, not two, but FOUR Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot to choose from.  So many!  I've only run one, the United Run for the Hungry, which was two years ago. Usually on Thanksgiving morning I'm too busy cooking to go to a race.  But this year was something different and special. My sister, R, was out visiting from Texas with her family.  My niece and nephew (ages 11 and 9, respectively) wanted to run their first 5k with me.  And this year they have an exchange student from Switzerland staying with them, and this was to be her first 5k as well! Also joining the gang would be my 9 year old son, D, and my best friend.  I let my sister's family choose among the four possible runs, and they quickly on the Oceanside Turkey Trot, mainly because of it's location--on the Pacific Ocean. 

Although packet pickup was available the two days before the race, we opted to pick up on race morning.  Normally I like to take care of all this before race day, but with my sister not arriving until Wednesday night, early pickup was not possible. Since Oceanside is a good 40 minutes away, and I didn't know what the parking situation would be like (there was also a 5 mile race starting at 7:00 a.m., which would further add to the parking problem) we left my house at 6:45, which I hoped would be plenty of time for an 8:25 race start.  As it turned out, parking was very hard, so I was glad we'd left early.

I decided to dress up in costume for this race, in a Thanksgiving theme. We saw a lot of people with turkey hats, etc...but I think my costume idea was unique:  we were footballs!  I found football hats in the dollar bin at Target and was able to get enough for all 7 of us.  I wore my Dallas Cowboys football jersey, and a few others in our group wore football shirts as well.  Hey, football is just as important a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey is!


Once parked, we easily found our way to the registration tables where we received our bibs and commemorative timing chips ( t-shirts were given out to finishers at the end).  We then had time to kill, which we spent in the back corral.  This was a mistake.  It took forever for our corral to cross the start line, and that was with all the walkers.  We had a lot of walkers to weave around.  But it was too crowded in the corrals to have moved up.  In the future, if I do this race again, I will get there even earlier and line up in the appropriate corral for running my pace.

Once we crossed the start, and got past all the walkers, we settled into our pace.  By "we" I mean my son and my niece.  My best friend and the exchange student were right ahead of us for the first half of the race, but we took a walk break and lost them.  My sister and nephew were only a few minutes behind us, doing a run/walk.  The first half of the race was on a regular street---but the second half took a turn west, with a spectacular view of the Pacific laid out in front of us. We then turned north and ran the last mile on the street adjacent to the ocean.  The weather was perfect---I was in short-sleeves and got hot. A truly magnificent run.

My son, niece and I ran most of the way, only taking a few walk breaks. I was so proud of them both, especially my niece, who truly rocked her first 5k!  Once we got to the finish line, the kids sprinted ahead of me and crossed.  Once there, we got our medals (a great touch for a 5k) and found my best friend and the exchange student, who had already finished.  Just a few minutes later my sister and nephew crossed.   More pride!  To be there for my sister's, niece's and nephew's first race was amazing.  We got our (cotton) t-shirts, given only to finishers, and proceed to come home, shower and cook.

I would definitely do this race again if I do another Turkey Trot.  It was much better organized than the one I did a few years ago (this year, that particular race was short on distance on both the 5k and 10k...this race clocked me in at a perfect 3.13 per my Garmin).  The views of the ocean are unparalleled. I loved the wonderful costumes people ran in. As I said, the only thing I would do differently is get there earlier to get in a corral of runners, rather than walkers.  All in all, it was a GREAT start to the Thanksgiving holiday!

In January I will again be running with my niece and nephew, this time in Houston. I can't wait, mainly because they were so excited!  They told me the race was one of their biggest highlights from their trip to California.  Maybe they've inherited the racing bug from their aunt? I can only hope

November 7, 2013

Awesome 80's 5k Race Recap ('13)

My son, D, and I had the best time last weekend running in the 2nd annual Awesome 80's 5k.  I did this run solo last year, although last year I did the 10k (it was my first-ever 10k).  This year they did not offer the 10k option, only the 5k, which was fine with me.  The reason I did this race last year was for the medal. I'm not the type of runner who usually runs races for the actual medal at the end, but for this one I did--last year's was designed to look like a cassette tape. I had to have it!  This year was no different.  They announced a Darth Vader medal----and I immediately signed myself and my 9 year old. I knew it would be a fun race, as everyone dresses up, and I knew D would adore the medal (he loves Star Wars).

Last year my friend Ingrid and I dressed up in neon. This year I wanted to do something different, so after polling my friends on Facebook for costume ideas, I settled on the classic 80's preppy look.  D wore sweat pants and a polo shirt (collar up, of course), a sweatband around his head and a wristband on either wrist.  I wore my pink running skirt, and ordered a mint green polo shirt to go with it.  A mint green and pink argyle headband, pink argyle socks, and pearls completed my look. (Since we're playing golf now I know I'll wear my new polo shirt again).   I decided to go in character, and for the morning our new names were Chip and Buffy. 

Introducing "Buffy"
Like last year, the race started at 7 so we had to leave really early.  Ingrid picked me and D up at 5:30 and we easily got down to Fiesta Island and parked. We sat in the car until the last minute at it was very cold.  I had gone down to pick up my packet the day before, which was good because we didn't need to get our stuff and backtrack to the car to put the race shirts and goody bags away.  Finally we got out of the car. I let Daniel wear his jacket, as I knew he would be cold. I brought along one of those little backpacks I got at some half marathon. I never run with those things on, but I knew that once D warmed up he'd want to shed  the jacket....and since there was no gear check I had to act as his personal valet.  Ah, motherhood.

I saw my friend Andrea in the crowd and said hi, but unfortunately didn't get to see her again as he headed to the bathroom and had a really long wait (we opted to use an actual bathroom versus the port-a-potties, but they were cleaning the bathrooms so we had to wait).  By the time we were able to use the bathroom, we only had time for some quick pictures before the race started.

Sadly, my phone was broken (I accidentally dropped it in the washing  machine on Halloween) so I wasn't able to take pictures during the race.  But just like last year, there were people dressed up in the craziest 80's costumes.  Lots of neons, lots of Madonna wanna-bes.  I saw people dressed like Run DMC, Strawberry Shortcake, the Blues Brothers, the Ghostbusters Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man....very much like last year, but just as fun.  It was D's first time in this race, and he had a great time looking at the costumes.

The run itself wasn't that great. I was pretty much pain-free, but my son had stomach cramps that made us walk a lot more than we normally would.  I let him set the pace and walk when he needed.  I was so proud of him, he was a champ and sucked up the discomfort and finished strong.  At the end, he sprinted way ahead of me to cross the finish line. I trotted in behind him and was happy to see my friend Steve waiting at the finish.  D and I got our coveted Darth Vader medals.

A fun medal for any Star Wars fan

All in all, a very fun time. The best part of this race, for me, is seeing all the costumes. Along with the music, it brings me back to my teenage years.  Awesome!

November 1, 2013

Halloween Musings

Last night was one of the best Halloweens I've ever had.

I love Halloween so much.  I always have. There's something about the excitement in the air, the silliness, the fun.  I love the houses that go all-out and decorate.  I am always amazed by how creative people, children and adults alike, can be with their costumes.  I think handing out candy is so much fun, and it's even more fun going door-to-door with my children.  Back in my early 20's when I used to dabble in witchcraft, it was celebrated as the new year...and in truth, this time of year always seems like a new beginning with the holiday season upon us.

I also have had cause to celebrate on Halloween. In 1999, my husband, J, proposed to me on that night.  And on Halloween morning 2005, with my then-one-year-old son, D, at my side, I looked at pregnancy test stick and saw the "+" mark. I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, A, and excitedly (and somewhat fearfully) told D he was going to be a big brother.  Yes, Halloween has always been fun for me.

When I became a parent, Halloween took on new meaning. It wasn't about me, it was about my son. I recall those first few Halloweens with D....picking out his costume, taking him around a few houses.  Usually my husband would join us for a few houses and then return home to hand out candy while I did a few more with my baby, and in subsequent years, toddler.  The older he got, the more houses he would be able to go to (and the heavier his trick-or-treat bag would get!)  When A was born, we would take her out to a few houses and then J would take her home and hand out candy, again with me walking around with D.  I cherish those memories. I can still feel his little 2- and 3-year old hand in mine, hearing him exclaim over people's carved pumpkins on their doorsteps, his shyness in saying "trick-or-treat", coaxing him to go up to some particularly scary houses.  I remember one year when he was dressed like Spiderman. He must have been 4.  People would open their doors and say "hello, Spiderman!" and he would pout, "I'm not Spiderman, I'm D!"  Ah, out of the mouths of babes.

When D became 5, and was in kindergarten, he finally had friends in the neighborhood (before that, we didn't know anyone with kids his age around us; turns out, the street was crawling with kids!)  From that point on, every Halloween involved meeting up with a particular group of friends and running around the neighborhood. Typically J goes with him and that group, while I would do a few houses with A then return home to hand out candy.

I love to decorate for Halloween as well.  In my house, decorating doesn't mean making the house look spooky. It means dragging out my box of "decorations", the majority of which are artwork that my kids have done, mostly in school, over the years. I get so much pleasure hanging up their orange finger-painted pumpkins and other such artwork.

Which brings me to yesterday.

Yesterday started out good. I took the kids to school, and stayed for their costume parade (D was dressed like a ninja, and A was dressed like a cat).  The 4th and 5th grade students did a flash mob, so I got to see D dance with the group to Michael Jackson's "Thriller".  I then helped out with A's 1st grade Halloween party, then went up to D's 4th grade class to do the same. It was so fun!  I came home, did a quick 50 minute workout (biked on the trainer for 40 minutes, then ran for 10 minutes), showered, and had to leave to pick the kids up from school. I hurriedly threw laundry in the washing machine, and too late I realize I had accidentally tossed my phone in too.  By the time I realized it, it was already wet, and not turning on.

I spent all afternoon brooding. I was afraid to tell J, as we have had so many unexpected expenses this year (we had to replace our washing machine, air conditioner/furnace, and garage door opener, to name just a few) and I knew he would not be happy about this. When D saw how upset I was, he said some wise words: "Mama, it's just a phone." I realized he was right.  It was just a "thing" and it was just money.

This time last year, A had JUST gotten home from two weeks in the hospital, having broken her neck. She had the halo screwed to her head, and I pushed her in a wheelchair to a few houses, so that she would have a token trick-or-treat experience.  I recalled her first Halloween, in 2006 when she was just 4 months old, having spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU.  She was not breathing well at all that night as I carried her to a few houses in her cute pea-in-a-pod costume, and in fact was a few days away from being back inpatient for month while she got a tracheomstomy.  Hey, just a few months ago I was dealing with my husband's stroke.  This Halloween, everyone was home, everyone was healthy, and that was the most important thing in the world.  There is no amount of money that can buy that.

I was also grateful that just this week, J had uploaded all my photos from my phone onto the computer, so I didn't lose them.  THAT would have been devastating.

So at trick-or-treat last night, I shook off my bad mood.  The kids dressed in their cute costumes, and off we went.  D went with my husband with his usual crowd of friends and hit in the neighborhood.  As for A? Well for the first time SHE had a group of friends to go around with too.  Like my son, she didn't have neighborhood friends until she started kindergarten last year.  Before that, all of her friends were from other sources (preschool, kids of my own friends, etc) and none were in our specific neighborhood. And although last year, in kindergarten, she had made some local friends, her neck break prevented her from really going out; as I wrote earlier, I just pushed her in her wheelchair (she was using a wheelchair at the time because of the halo on her head) for a few houses.  Last night, however, she joined up with four other friends and had the best time.

I felt so good, knowing that D was happy with his friends, A was happy with her friends, and that both had a nice group of parents that I trusted and felt comfortable with.  We were all healthy, we were all safe, and our family has come such a long way this past year.  It was the best Halloween ever, mostly due to being able to simply be grateful for what we have and not stressing about the rest.

October 28, 2013

We're A Golfing Family Now

Back in February, my family was having dinner one night and J and were talking about sports.  We were discussing how our son, D, doesn't like participating in team sports.  We've tried soccer, basketball, baseball, etc....but he just hates them. Instead, he prefers individual based sports, like karate (he's about to test for his brown belt---black is the only color left to earn after this!) and running (just like his mama).  He's also very interested in archery.  But that night at dinner, the subject of golf came up---a sport that's individual, but yet social at the same time.

J started wondering if golf would be a good sport for our daughter, too.  She hasn't ever played a sport before, as her balance and vision issues would get in the way.  She did gymnastics for a while, but after breaking her neck last year she's not allowed to do that anymore.  She also takes adapted swimming lessons, but still can't swim unassisted.  Golf was intriguing to us.

A quick Google search found us a real gem:  a PGA golf pro who specializes in helping children and adults with special needs learn to play. The coach, (whom I'll just call Coach in this blog) was delighted to hear from me and told me a little of his history.  He has been helping people for the past 35 years play!  He works with special needs of every sort---autism, spinal cord injuries, Down Syndrome, etc.  When I told him about A, he said that golf would be the perfect sport for her.  One reason is that she doesn't need to run in golf (A has a hard time running due to her balance).  And the second reason is that the ball won't go anywhere until she walks up and hits it.  Because of her vision issues, I don't want her around flying balls coming toward her (soccer, softball, etc).  So golf did seem perfect.  Coach said to bring her in----but wanted the whole family to come, not just her.

We've been going every Saturday since February, and I can't believe how much fun we're having.  At this point, all four of us have our own set of clubs (J already had his own set, and the kids each got a set for their birthdays earlier this year.  I myself am borrowing a set from a friend).  It's the first family activity that we've ever done---something that ALL FOUR OF US are learning.  We have our lesson, then go out to dinner after.  Very good quality family time.

A is really enjoying it.  Although she hasn't gone on the course yet, she is enjoying being on the putting green, chipping green, and driving range. Because of her vision limitation (bilateral colobomas) she has to work extra hard at seeing the ball before she swings the club.  She truly is getting better and better, and she gets so proud of herself when she hits a ball particularly well, or sinks a ball into the hole on the putting green.

I myself have learned to like it. Until our first lesson, I'd never picked up a club, save for playing miniature golf.  But I'm liking the challenge. I especially enjoy chipping and driving.  The 7-iron feels so good in my hands, and I'm learning proper form and how to get a more aggressive swing.  I love it when the ball goes farrrrrrrrr.........

Best of all, and perhaps most surprising, is my son.  D has become a golf fanatic. He catches on very quickly, and is quite good for someone only playing a few months.  In fact, last weekend he participated in his first golf tournament, in the 10-and-under category.  I'm thrilled, as golf is one of those sports that can be done solo or with a group (much like running).

I've yet to go out on the course, but J and D have. Not only have they gone out with Coach on the rare days that A and I need to miss the lesson, but they have gone golfing on their own a few times at a local 9-hole course.  One day I'm sure I'll get out there. In the meantime, I'm enjoying learning the basics, and watching my kids each learn a new and fun sport.

October 9, 2013

Mission Bay Triathlon Race Recap ('13)

Triathlon #9---done!

I hadn't planned on doing a triathlon this year. After last year's half-Ironman, I was pretty burnt out, and instead decided that 2013 would be the year of focusing on the sports individually.  But since I am now registered for another half-Ironman (Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside) next March, I thought it might be wise to squeeze a sprint in this fall.  I wanted needed to practice my transitions and get my head back in the triathlon world.  So I registered for the Mission Bay Triathlon.

Mission Bay was my first-ever triathlon, back in 2010 (see recap here). I did it again the following year, in 2011 (see recap here). Obviously this triathlon holds a very special place in my heart. Additionally, it holds a very special place in triathlon---it was the first-ever triathlon, back in 1974! I just found this great article, written by the event's founder, on the history of that first race.  It's a wonderful event for first-timers, and now that I've done the same course 3 times, it's a nice measurement of my progress as a triathlete.

I actually didn't really train specifically for this event. I had just done a 2.4 mile swim race the week before, so I felt confident on the swim.  As for the bike, I've mostly been spinning at home recently, on the trainer, although I'd had a few outdoor rides recently. And my run isn't in good shape, as I've been going very slowly and not too far as to not aggravate my herniated disc.  My intention for this race was not to PR (spoiler: I didn't) but, as I wrote earlier, to practice transition and get rejuvenated for training.

One side note---the race was affected by the government shutdown.  I got this email the day before the race:

Mission Bay Triathletes,
We are looking forward to a great event tomorrow!

Unfortunately we have learned from our medal supplier that due to the government shutdown, our medal shipment is being delayed in customs and will not arrive in time for the race tomorrow. Your medal(s) will be mailed to your provided address as soon as they arrive. We are extremely disappointed and apologize for this inconvenience.

I wasn't expecting a medal in the first place, as the past two times I did this race they gave out pins.  In truth, I don't care about the medal.....but after reading the email I was shaking my head yet one more time about the wide-strewn effects this shutdown is having.

Every year I've done this race they do things differently in terms of packet pickup.  This time we had to go to Road Runner Sports, which I did the Friday before.  I got my swimcap (pink for the first time), timing chip, strap, and event tech shirt.  I did some bike prep Friday as well, cleaning and my lubing my chain, pumping my tires, etc.  Saturday they opened transition to rack your bike if you wanted.  I did, and was able to snag a prime spot on the end of my wave rack.  I packed my gear (and double checked, and triple checked) and before I went to bed Saturday night had everything loaded in the car.  I was in bed by 8:30, and pretty much slept soundly until 4:05, which was 5 minutes before my alarm was due to go off.  I rarely sleep so well the night before a race, so I was happy!

When I did this race in 2011, I left the house at 5:15 and ran into TONS of traffic getting down there.  This time I left the house at 4:30, and got there in plenty of time. I didn't hit any traffic and even got a great spot in the front parking spot.  Getting 30 minutes less sleep was totally worth this. I waited in my car about half an hour, then made my way to transition.  Set up was easy, and I had lots of time to get bodymarked, double check everything, and ease my wetsuit on.  A woman two bikes down from me recognized me.  She's a reader of my blog and we have a mutual friend on Facebook, and had conversed a bit on Facebook about a half-Ironman she did. It was great to finally meet her in person!  I had eaten a Luna Bar on the way down to Mission Bay, but before I left transition I grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle for extra fueling.

transition set up!

ready to TRI!
Last time I did this race, my wave was #13 out of 14.  This time I was in wave #8, so I didn't have as much time to wait around, which was great.  I got in the water early (this is an in-water start) to warm up. The air was pretty cold outside, and my feet were freezing standing on the cold cement and grass, so getting into the 68 degree water felt good!  I warmed up a bit, splashing around and swimming back and forth. Soon it was time for my wave (women 40-49) to line up.  As we were treading water waiting for the horn to blow, a woman next to me asked me if my name was Sugar (well, she used my real name, but I don't use my real name on my blog). She also has a mutual friend on Facebook and recognized me from our friend mentioning my name. I couldn't believe she picked me out of a crowd of women, all wearing wetsuits, pink caps and goggles, but she did! It was great to meet her.

As we were waiting for the horn to blow, we kept moving past the start buoy and had to keep backing up. The current would be with us!  When the horn finally blew I was off!  I wasn't expecting the swim to be hard; after all, only 7 days before I had swum 2.4 miles in the ocean!  Yet the 500 meters seemed to take forever.  I got stopped momentarily here and there by women cutting me off, but never got hit or kicked. I had someone on my feet for a while, and was almost hit by a woman doing the swim entirely in backstroke and going off-course, but overall I had plenty of water and space.  Only halfway through, however, I started to tire. This always happens to me on sprints, as it takes me 500 yards to warm up, and in a sprint, by the time I'm warmed up the swim portion is over.  And the water started to feel warm, too warm.  But I just kept my head down and kept one arm in front of the other.  Soon enough I saw ground below me. I kept swimming until my hands actually hit the earth, stood up, trudged through the rest of the water, smiled for the camera, and walked up to transition.  It was my fastest time yet swimming at this triathlon.

Once in transition I felt befuddled. I had no clue what to do first.  Everything was organize nicely, but I was disoriented and couldn't think straight. Finally I figured it out--take off the wetsuit, rinse my feet (they were covered in dirt, rocks and grass from the walk up from transition), put on socks, bike shoes, helmet, Garmin, sunglasses and race belt---but it seemed to take me forever. One neat thing for me was there were LOTS of bikes still there---I beat many, many women out of the water. I guess all my Tiki Swim training paid off! I certainly wasn't one of the fastest, but my placing was very good for me.

One humorous thing that happened here---as I took off my wetsuit, I noticed that my tri shorts were on inside out.  What? That's what happens when you get dressed so early in the morning. By that time, of course, I couldn't do anything about it. I had to do the bike and run with the padding and tags on the outside!  So funny and embarrassing at the same time!

Out of transition, past the mount line, and finally I was able to get on my bike, Bullet, and clip in.  I couldn't concentrate, though. I was wearing my friend (and new coach!) Steve's Garmin, and in my hurry and disorientation in T1 I hadn't fastened it correctly. I was worried it would fall off!  So once I got in the Sea World parking lot, I pulled over (off the course), fixed it, and was able to get on with a new peace of mind.  The course is advertised as 15k, which should be 9.3 miles, but every year I've done it it's actually about 10 miles. It goes over an overpass (the only "hill"), through the Sea World parking lot, around one lap of Fiesta Island, then back again.  Although it's a very flat course, it was very windy. I hunkered down in aero and rode as fast as I could---but when I looked at the Garmin, I was only going 14 mph!  Ah, silly wind.  Of course, turning some corners made the wind help me, and I was able to average 17-18 mph.  I felt like I held my own on the bike.  I was 3 minutes slower than last time I did this race, but last time I had just trained for and completed an Olympic distance race and was really bike-ready.  This time I wasn't.  Still, I felt good, never felt too tired, and although I got passed by all the fast people on their race wheels, I myself passed many people. So different from my first triathlon, when I got passed by EVERYBODY!  Although I ate a few Clif Shot Blocks on the ride, it wasn't until about mile 7 that I realized I should drink something.  Oops!  Luckily with such a short race it was fine, but I really need to start nailing my bike nutrition and hydration better. 

Clip-clopped into T2, and this time had an easy transition.  Helmet off, running shoes on, and go!  One stop at the bathroom and I was ready to run.  As I was changing my shoes, I head the announcer say that someone was about to get proposed to at the finish line. I was sad I had to leave, as I would have loved to have seen the proposal!

The run was where I started to have issues.  I took along my new Galloway timer, which allows me to set intervals and have it vibrate against me so I know when to run/walk. I set it for my usual 2 minutes run, 30 second walk, which is what I've been doing lately. It was only 5k, but at about 1 mile my sciatic pain started acting up.  Grrrrr!  I kept my ratio, although started to do a little more walking than I intended when the pain would ramp up.  The run is always nice here---it goes around the model boat pond, and is full of happy runners. The pain wasn't awful, and I was able to keep going with a smile on my face.

Toward the end, I did something I've never done in a triathlon before: I started gunning for women in my age group. Usually in triathlons I don't care where I place. I usually place toward the bottom of my age group, and always try to swim/bike/run my own race. But in the last half mile, I saw 3 women ahead of me, all with 42 or 43 written on their calfs (our ages are bodymarked on our left calfs).  I wanted to beat them!  In the end, because I didn't want to push it too hard and hurt myself, I passed only one of them....but for a moment there I was uncharacteristically competitive!

Finally the finish line was in sight and I was done!  Although I didn't PR (I was a few minutes off my 2011 time) I was proud of myself.  Considering how little I've been biking and running recently I did great. And I accomplished my goal, which was to practice my transitions and re-enter the world of triathlon.  I'm glad I did it--not only did it highlight my current strengths (ie swimming) but showed me what I need to work on (um, hello T1?).

Now to wait for my medal to clear customs......

September 30, 2013

Tiki Swim Race Recap ('13)

At the beginning of the year, I set some new athletic goals for myself.  I had just finished my first half-Ironman, and wanted a new challenge for myself. As I have no interest in doing a full Ironman, I decided to focus on each sport. I set a goal to do something in each sport that scared me.  Overcoming fear was to be the theme of 2013.

For running, that meant my first trail race, which I did in February. For cycling, that meant my first century ride. Although I signed up for one in June, I did not do it, as I was advised to rest completely due to injury (which turned out to be a herniated disc; resting did nothing to help).  Although I did not do the century, I did a lot of training for it, including conquering my fear of biking up a huge hill, Scripps Poway Parkway, which I biked three times. And for swimming, that meant doing the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile open water swim race.

Yes, 2.4 miles, which is an Ironman distance. This would be a huge jump in distance for me, as the half-Ironman I had done was "only" a 1.2 mile swim.  Over the past few months, I kept my swim distance in the pool to my usual 2000-3000 yards until mid-August, when I bumped up to some 3500 yards swims. (For comparison, 2.4 miles is about 4224 yards).  At the beginning of September, I started to get coached by my Ironman friend Steve, who added more mileage and drills, drills, drills!  By the time race day came yesterday, I had completed a 4250 yard pool swim, as well as multiple 3500 yarders with drills, paddles, and using the pull buoy, all designed to make it tougher and to make me stronger.  In addition, I joined some of my friends for a few ocean swims over the past few weeks, all the better to get used to my wetsuit again, remember how to get through waves, and get used to swimming in the swells and currents.

I had 4 goals.  My "A" goal was to finish in under 1:45 (my 2.4 mile pool swim had been 1:50). My "B" goal was to finish in under 2:00.  My "C" goal was to finish in under 2:20, which was the official race cutoff time.  And my "D" goal was just to finish, regardless of time.

As an aside, about a month ago I was on one such a swim with my friends, when my hands and feet suddenly got freezing. The water temperature was not that cold, and I myself was warm in my wetsuit. But my fingers were frozen, and my feet weren't much better. After the swim, I bought a pair of swim booties, worrying that during the Tiki Swim I would be frozen. However, at my last ocean practice, my hands and feet were fine, so I returned the booties to the store.  During Tiki, I was sad about this.

Now, back to my race report!

The day before the race was packet pickup.  They also had packet pickup the morning of the race, but I was getting anxious and wanted to get it early. I headed to Oceanside with my daughter, A.  Big mistake.  I had forgotten that the swim was taking place during Oceanside's Harbor Days, which apparently was a two-day festival literally set on the harbor.  Parking was awful, and I had to catch a shuttle to get to the festival.  If I do the swim next year, I won't get the packet the day before. For this race, the morning of is just fine.  Regardless, I got my packet (swim cap, timing chip and velcro strap) and goody bag.  There is no t-shirt given out (they give a trucker hat out at the finish instead) but I ended up buying a Tiki Swim hoodie. I know I'll proudly wear it all winter. I got home and packed my gear and of course, got a poor night's sleep (I rarely sleep well the night before a race!)

packet pickup

My alarm was set for 4:40, but I was up at 3:30 for good. I got dressed and waited to be picked up by my friend C, was was doing the 1.2 mile version of the Tiki Swim (my husband was supposed to do the 1.2 mile swim, but since he had the brain surgery in August, he wasn't able to participate. I convinced my friend C to take his bib).  C picked me up at 5:15 and we made the half hour drive to Oceanside in the dark.  We parked in the paid lot by the pier (it was recommended to park here, which was close, or several blocks way at the Transit Center for free).  My friend Ted showed up, and the three of us waited in C's car for a while. It was dark, windy, and freezing outside!

Finally the sun started to rise and it began to warm up a bit.  We got out of the car so that C and Ted could get their packets.  They also bodymarked everyone, putting our race numbers on our hands (this was new to me....usually in triathlon you get marked on your shoulder and calf, but of course, in an event where most people are in wetsuits for the entire time, the hand makes sense!) Soon we also met up with other friends (Rebecca, Stuart, Leah and Leo). all of whom I met on Dailymile.  C left to take the shuttle to the 1.2 mile start.  We suited up and I got in the water to test out the temperature, my suit and my goggles.  Everything seemed fine!  The temperature was roughly 67 degrees---very lovely.  My goggles seemed to be leak-free, and I got water in my wetsuit to warm myself up.  I saw another buddy of mine, a man who swims at my gym and has done this race the previous two years.  Back to the beach for  some instructions from the race director, and it was time to line up!  I had been thinking of taking some Clif Shot Blocks with me in my wetsuit sleeve, as I always munch on them in the middle of super long swims. But I didn't like how they felt in my wetsuit, so decided to just stop at the aid station midway for a gel and a drink.  I had fueled myself with a Luna Bar at home before I got picked up, and a Honey Stinger Waffle while waiting with my friends in the car.

The Tiki Swim, now in it's third year, is a point-to-point swim.  The 2.4 milers start just south of the Oceanside pier. The plan is to swim out to an orange buoy, then turn right and head north, again following the orange buoys.  We were instructed not to sight off the pier, as that would get us off-course. Sight on the buoys only.  Eventually we would be joined by the 1.2 milers, who would be in a different colored cap (them in orange, us in yellow).  An aid station in the form of a boat (an outrigger canoe, I think) would be at that point too.  Soon we would all approach the harbor and head toward the right, into it, following the buoys which would now be green.  After swimming to the end of the harbor, we would finish at a boat ramp.

A man blew on a conch shell, and the race was on!  Exactly one year ago, on September 30, I did the SuperFrog Half Ironman in horrific wave conditions---the waves were about 6 feet tall.  It was awful.  Today the waves were small, about 2-3 feet.  I hung back a bit as most of the swimmers ran in, wanting to give myself plenty of space. It didn't take too long for me to get past the breakers, and soon enough I was able to start swimming.

And swim I did.  I kept swimming, and swimming and swimming, and still wasn't getting out to the first buoy.  I don't have a waterproof Garmin, so I don't know how far out the first buoy was or how long it took me, but it seemed to take forever! Finally, FINALLY, I got to the first buoy and rounded it.  I had hardly any swimmers around me on the way there, but it got a bit congested making the turn.  Once I got there, I was already tired, which didn't surprise me. Even with the mild waves, it still takes a lot out of me to swim against the tide and get out there. Also, even in the pool, it takes me a good 500 yards or so to warm up. I wasn't warmed up yet.  There were a few swells even past the break, and some currents to fight, notably near the first buoy, by the pier, and near the entrance to the harbor. Nothing horrible, but enough of a current that I had to work just a bit harder.

I decided to swim from buoy to buoy, and give myself a quick break (a few seconds) at each one to orient myself.  I was sighting during swimming, of course, but it was good for me to take these quick stops to see where I was heading to next.  Soon, my feet were cold.  Darn it, I should have worn those booties!  I passed a man who was wearing some and I was instantly jealous.  I had a brief chat with this man; I passed him and he was bobbing in the water, trying to find the next buoy.  All of the buoys were orange circles, but there was one triangle one that signaled where the aid station was and also where the 1.2 milers would be merging in with us.  He didn't see the triangle until I pointed it out to him. I asked him the time (he had a watch on) and he replied it had been 52 minutes since the start.  I was happy, as I knew we were about halfway and that was a good time for me.

One note about course support---there was a ton!  Throughout the entire race, there was always at least one lifeguard on a stand-up paddle, kayak or boat nearby. One even shouted at me to move toward the left as I drifted a bit off-course. I always felt safe, knowing they were there.  Swimmers were allowed to rest on the boats if they wanted, as long as they didn't have any forward movement. I never needed to rest, of course, but it's nice that the option was there.  And the lifeguards were so nice, shouting out words of encouragement as I passed and giving me time of day when I asked.

I kept swimming and swimming and swimming.  I wasn't too bored, which was surprising; on most of my long swims (any pool swim 2500 yards or longer) I use a waterproof iPod to keep my mind occupied.  I was thinking, racking my brain, trying to think of all my kids' past Halloween costumes from each year (this was harder than you'd think; I still can't remember one of my daughter's costumes, and thinking about it during the swim kept me busy!)  I started to get thirsty, as I had been swallowing a lot of salt water.  I looked for the aid station, which should have been near, but I had passed it!  Ugh!   A lifeguard asked me if I wanted him to get me something, but I said no.  After not bringing my Clif Shot Block with me, I ended up eating and drinking nothing on the swim! I  kicked more than I usually do.  Normally I don't kick at all, only use my legs to balance me, as I need to save my legs for the bike and run portions (it's the triathlete's way). but since I didn't have to bike or run after, I felt free to kick and propel myself a little faster.  I tried to go stronger with my arms, too, as per my race plan, but when I did I tired out easily. I decided to just keep it nice and steady.

Finally, I passed the last orange buoy and was directed to swim toward the mouth of the Oceanside Harbor. Here the buoys were green, and the water was flat and calm.  As soon as I turned into the harbor, the smell of food overwhelmed me.  The Harbor Days festival was getting underway just above me! I especially smelled something sweet, probably funnel cake. It also smelled briny too. I just kept swimming, looking through the green-tinted water, watching my hands as they entered.  This part of the course is actually the swim course of the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside, a race that I will be doing in exactly six months I kept thinking that the next time I'm in this water it'll be during my next half-Ironman!

At last I was in the final few hundred yards. I saw the boat ramp ahead, and the lifeguards nearby cheered me to finish. There were a lot of people lining the boat ramp watching. As I am so slow (most of the 2.4 milers had already finished  [although I was NOT last at all] and I never even saw ONE of the 1.2 milers, as they had all finished already) I was the only one finishing at that time.  All I kept thinking was "don't slip in front of all these people!"  I swam until my hand hit the ground, then I stood up. Luckily there was not one, but FOUR volunteers at the bottom of the boat ramp to catch people. I needed all four to help me, as the boat ramp was very slippery and I was disoriented from suddenly standing up. I ran, or rather stumbled, up the boat ramp and crossed the timing mat.  One volunteer placed a medal and a ribbon lei around my neck; a second gave me my finisher's trucker hat.  I was done. I  was on dry land. I had finished!  Not only that, I had smashed my "B" goal by about 10 minutes or so, easily finishing within 2 hours. And, I had energy left over to boot. I was glad to be done, but if necessary could have swam further.

Stuart was at the finish, and eventually we met up with Rebecca and Leah (Ted and Leo had already left).  My husband, J, came after dropping the kids off at Sunday School, and while he had missed my finish, he was so proud of me.  Although a pancake breakfast was free for all finishers, we decided to leave and hit up a local cafe for a more hearty, and private, breakfast.

right after the race, soaked and dazed
dry and happy!

A day later, I am still in shock at how much fun I had. I love my running races, and enjoy triathlon, but didn't expect to love this swim-only event so much.  I didn't love every minute, but overall it was fantastic.  It was a very well organized event, and I thought it was pretty unique. And for me, the date (to the day, it was exactly a year ago that I did SuperFrog and exactly six months until Ironman Oceanside 70.3) was poignant. A great anniversary and a great kickoff to my next training. If I am in town next year for this event, I will most likely sign up again.  The only thing I would do different is apply glide to my neck---I never do, as I'd never chafed before, but after the event the entire back of my neck is chafed badly. Ouch!

Next up is the Mission Bay Triathlon, which I'll do next week!

September 21, 2013

9-11 Memorial Stair Climb

I am late in posting this recap, but two weeks ago I participated in an extraordinary event, the San Diego 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb.  It took place just days before September 11, and was a very poignant day.

I have been wanting to do a stair climb event for quite a while, but there just aren't any in San Diego, at least not that I've heard of or been able to find by searching online. I know other cities (New York, Chicago, etc) have stair climb races, but not here.  Coincidentally, about a month ago a friend on mine posted on Facebook about this event in San Diego, with a discount available on a deal through Living Social.  I bought it immediately, as not only was I excited about a stair climbing event to do, but the cause was great---it honored the victims of 9/11 and raised money for FireFighterAid. I roped one of my best friends, Amanda, into signing up with me.  Although I had a 5k the day before, I was looking forward to the challenge.

What was the challenge?  It was to climb 110 stories, which was the height of the World Trade Center.  We were to climb at the Hilton downtown, which was 30 stories tall.  The plan was for each climber to climb the steps 3 times (which would really total 90 stories).  I think the assumption was that the amount of steps it took to get from the exit of the elevator (we took the elevator down after each climb) back to the start would account for the other 20 stories.

the hotel

Amanda and I arrived early at the Hilton, in time to check in and get our t-shirts.  The event was untimed, so there were no timing chips.  And we didn't get bibs. Instead, each participant was given a lanyard with the name and picture of a fallen firefighter, police officer, or port authority officer who died on 9/11.  I was given the name of a firefighter, Stephen Stiller.  Seeing his name and picture made the whole thing very real for me. I realized that no matter how tired I got, I couldn't stop. I had to do the whole climb.  After all, it was the least I could do in Stephen's memory.

the hero I climbed for

this flag had every victim's name on it
a piece of one of the Towers

Before the climb started, there was a ceremony.  A choir sang the national anthem and God Bless America. Some other people spoke.  One of the most amazing speeches was by Lt. Joe Torrillo, a firefighter with an amazing story.  On 9/11, he was actually trapped under the rubble of Tower 1.  He was rescued, and then trapped under the rubble of Tower 2. As a survivor, he has made it his life's mission to travel the country, making sure the words "never forget" and its meaning lives on. They even had some metal, some part of one of the towers that had been transported to San Diego. By the end of the ceremony, I was in tears and feeling very patriotic. I am very proud to be an American.

a firefighter chopper made its way overhead

After this, it was time to get ready to climb!  They went by waves, so I had a while to wait.  The most impressive thing was watching the firemen get ready...they all did the climb in full gear, some with oxygen tanks on their backs.  Jut incredible.

suiting up

firemen about to start their climb

When it was our turn to climb, we first had to touch a piece of metal that was part of the Towers, and then ring a bell and say the name of the person we were walking in honor of.  Again, it hit me the enormity of what I was about to do, and helped me keep Stephen in my mind throughout the climb.

the bell we had to ring, and the piece of metal we had to touch

And then we started to climb!  Amanda and I entered a side stairwell, along with other people in our wave, and began climbing the steps.  There's not too much to write about here, except to say that the stairwell was hot.  It was hot and humid with the sweat of all the climbers.  Every ten flights or so would be volunteers passing out water bottles, which was much appreciated.  The climb was not too hard. To be honest, I was expecting it to be painful, but it wasn't.

At the top floor (30th), we got out of the stairwell and walked down a hallway of the hotel to the freight elevators.  We were then brought down by elevator and sent to walk around the side of the building to do it again!  The only thing noteworthy this time was that we passed an obese woman going up, who was clearly having a hard time. She was walking very, very slowly. The beautiful thing was that there was a firefighter right behind her, who stayed behind her during the entire event (I passed her again on the third round).  This time getting to the 30th floor brought little relief, as the line to get on the elevators was very backed up and we had to wait a long time in line. This part was the worst---I don't ever remember being so hot and sweaty in my life. We were all just dripping sweat.
oddly looking fresh as a daisy
As we began the third, and supposedly last, ascend up, Amanda and I decided that we would do it fourth time. We really wanted to climb an entire 110 flights, and the 90 just didn't feel right. So at the end, we went up a fourth time, making for a total of 120 flights of stairs climbed.

one of the views on the stairwell

At the end, neither of us were sore at all! I had packed my Stick to rub out our quads and calves if we needed to....but neither of us needed it. We left the event happy and full of patriotic pride. This is one event I really hope to do every single year from now on.

September 10, 2013

Aloha Run 5k Race Recap

This past weekend I had a two-race weekend, the Aloha Run 5k and the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb.  Both were very different events, and I was glad I was able to complete both  First recap:  the Aloha Run!

I signed up to run this inaugural 5k race with my 9 year old son, D.  For the past few years, we have run a few 5ks together, and we hadn't run together in some months.  This race looked fun---along the water in beautiful Mission Bay, and it even offered a medal, which is rare for a 5k and something that my son was excited about.  Over the last few months, they sent out emails asking registrants to vote on the medal design; it was narrowed down to a choice between a hibiscus flower (with a hula dancer on it, complete with actual swinging skirt) or a wooden tiki (you can look at the website for the actual designs; both were cute!)  In the end, it was a tie vote, so the race said they would offer BOTH medals at the finish line, and each runner could have their choice.  I was excited, as I had voted for the hibiscus and D had voted for the tiki. We would both get the medal of our choice!  (By the way, they also had the medals made into keychains for sale, in case you wanted both).

Friday we drove to Road Runner Sports (my favorite store in the whole world!) for packet pickup.  It was an easy pickup, with a very small expo.  This race had 3 wave starts.  The 7:30 a.m. start was for runners; the 8:00 a.m. start was for slower runners and run/walk people, and the 8:30 a.m. start was for walkers.  We signed up for the 8:00 start, and noticed that each wave had a different color bib, which was cool.  After getting our bibs, timing chips and cotton t-shirts, I splurged and bought D his own handheld hydration system. I got him the Amphipod Hydraform Handheld, which is really sleek and actually now I'm jealous of.  Normally for a 5k I don't bring hydration, but I knew it would be hot the next day (it'd been in the 90s all week) and I definitely wanted D to have lots of liquid. I could have shared mine, or worn my fuel belt, but I'm glad I got him his own; he loves it and felt so empowered being able to drink whenever he was thirsty without asking me. It was a great deal, too.  Not only am I a Road Runner VIP so I get a discount, but all race registrants got more money off on top of that. I also bought him a Gu---he wanted to try pineapple. I bought one for me too.

Unfortunately, due to my injury (I have a herniated disc) I have not been running too much this summer, and have not been able to train with D at all in months. We went into this race knowing it would be slow, and that was ok. After all, I don't do these 5ks for a great finishing time; I do them in order to have fun with my son and foster a love of running and racing in him.  So it was with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness that we drove to Mission Bay early Saturday morning. We left the house at 6:30, and not a moment too soon. Even though we didn't start until 8, and it didn't take long to get there, parking was a nightmare (remember, one wave started at 7:30) and as it was we had to park 3/4 of a mile away. Not far, but in the hot sun with a tired and cranky 9 year old after the race, trust me, it seemed FAR!

The pre-race vibe was great.  Lots of music, lots of booths.  A man on stilts dressed in a tiki costume sent each wave off.  As we lined up, a woman in a Hawaiian outfit came over and gave D and I leis. In fact, lots of people were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts; I wish I'd have thought to dress up!  Each of the three waves got their own send-off with the National Anthem, which was a nice touch.  A few minutes before start time we each ate our new pineapple Gus. He loved his---I hated mine.  Gross flavor!  At 8:00 on the dot our wave got underway.

Our plan was to do a 2 minute run/1 minute walk combination.  However, D soon tired (remember, he hasn't been training at all) so that deteriorated into a 1 minute run/1 minute walk.  Toward the end, he was so hot and flushed (I've never seen his face so red!) that I let the walk breaks go on for longer.  I had to push him in the middle, as he was very tired and wanted to stop, but he got through it!  They had tons of entertainment! I'm used to no entertainment at all on 5ks.  This one had about 5 acts (mostly hula dancers and steel drum bands, all to match the aloha theme) crammed into 3.1 miles. And with the out-and-back course, we got to see each one twice. Very cool.

There were only two things I didn't like about this race.  First, there was only one water stop, which was at the turn-around at mile 1.5. Normally for a 5k that would be sufficient, but it was very hot and humid.  One more would have been nice....perhaps having a water stop at mile 1 and 2.  We were ok, as we each had our own handhelds (D had his new Amphipod and I had my old Nathan handheld ) but the runners who hadn't thought to bring their own water were hating it. And second, the course, while beautiful, was an out-and-back largely on one sidewalk. With the slow runners still returning from the earlier wave, and then later the runners starting in the later wave, it was extremely crowded and congested on the course. I'm glad we weren't trying for a PR because many times we were forced to walk, or even stop, as there was no place to go with the crowds of runners in front of us.

At the end, he sprinted ahead of me. I came in 20 seconds later, and when I did they announced my name.  We each got our choice of medal (me the hibiscus, he the tiki) and we began the long walk back to the car.  He was so tired I ended up carrying him on my back for a good chunk of it.  But he was happy, and thanked me for signing us up and running with him. That made it all worth it.  Also noteworthy was that I was in very little pain during the race. I am currently doing a new treatment for my herniated disc (spinal decompression, which I will write about another time) and I think it's helping. Yay for me!

All in all, we had a great time.  Hopefully some changes will be made next year (mainly with adding a water stop if it's as hot as it was this year) but for an inaugural race, they did a great job.  And now D has yet another 5k under his belt!

August 23, 2013

Young Onset Parkinson's and Deep Brain Stimulation

So two weeks ago, my husband, J, had brain surgery.

He's been diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson's Disease for 7 years now, having had symptoms for 9-10 years.  I haven't written about the PD in my blog too much, choosing instead to focus my writing about my running, triathlons, and parenting (with and without special medical needs).  That said, the PD has been a constant presence in our lives for almost a decade. J's symptoms have steadily progressed, going from a slight tremor in one finger to full shaking in the arm.  Worse, even, is his walking.  Without his meds, J has a very hard time walking.  He lurches and stumbles, he shuffles and freezes.  When his meds are "on" (that is, when they have kicked in) he's ok, but when they're "off" it's hard to watch.  And he's on an awful lot of PD medications.

Did I mention he is only 42 years old? He's been dealing with this since he was 32.

The idea of a surgery called deep brain stimulation (or DBS) was presented to him a few years ago. This surgery involved implanting some electrodes in the brain. I'm not even going to pretend that I understand exactly what it does, so if you are interested you can click here to read exactly what it is. All I really understand, science aside, is that it is supposed to greatly alleviate PD symptoms.  In fact, DBS is being used for other things; a TED talk spoke about it helped children with severe cerebral palsy walk for the first time.  The video below shows what a person with PD is like with and without the DBS's truly remarkable.

J's neurologist, however, is very conservative. She didn't want him to have the surgery too early in the progression of the disease.  So for years, the DBS seemed far off in the future.  A few months ago, however, she said she thought J was ready.  After meeting with the neurosurgeon, who thought J was a good candidate, and getting cleared by a speech therapist and psychologist (apparently swallowing and memory can be affected by the surgery) the surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, August 7.  My dear sister, R, flew in from out-of-state to take care of the kids.  He was supposed to only be in the hospital one night. (A battery pack will be installed August 26, and the whole system will be officially turned on September 9).

I brought J to the hospital early that morning. I was with him while he had his vitals taken and IV put in, but then I had to leave. My best friend came to sit with me all day.  The day was long; not only was I waiting for J to get out of major brain surgery, but my mother was also undergoing her 3rd round of chemo that day for ovarian cancer, so all in all I was worried about a lot of people.  After about 6 hours, the neurosurgeon came out and told me that everything had gone great, and he considered the surgery to be a success.

After he was in the recovery room for a while, he was brought up to his room, where I would finally be able to reunite with him.  I noticed immediately that his breathing didn't seem right; every few breaths he would shudder, as if he had a chill, although he wasn't cold.  My best friend and I kept asking for a doctor to come, but it took hours. In the meantime, besides the shudder, J looked fine. He was alert, although a bit groggy, and the only pain he had was in his forehead from where the halo had been placed to keep his head still during surgery (of note, our daughter, A, wore a halo for 2 months when she broke her neck last year).

Finally a neurosurgeon (not the one who performed the surgery, though) came in.  By this time, the shuddering had seemed to subside. The doctor did a quick neuro exam on J, asking him to touch his fingers, etc. When she asked him to show her his teeth, he smiled.  His smile was lopsided.  The right side drooped down significantly. Obviously, this freaked me out.  He was also unable to touch the doctor's finger with his own.  She ordered a CT scan, which she said showed no brain bleed and no stroke.  I felt a bit better, and went home to sleep (there was no place for me to sleep over in his room).

The next morning, I returned to the hospital bright and early.  His own neurologist was in, and was worried enough about J's neuro test results to order an MRI.  This time, it showed a small stroke. It was only 6mm by 10mm, and was at the site of one of the electrodes.  Apparently, only 1-3% of DBS patients have a stroke. Of course, with my family's medical luck, J was in that "lucky" few.  He was hopeful that J would make a good recovery, as he was still strong.  He could still move his right arm and right leg, and had strength, but couldn't direct them. For example, he could not touch someone's finger with his own. And when he tried to walk, with a physical therapist using a walker, he couldn't take one step.  He just couldn't direct the limbs on the right side of his body. And his mouth was still drooped to the right.

As upset as I was, I was encouraged that the neurosurgeon was optimistic for a recovery.  And I spoke to our friend T, who is a neurologist. T reassured me that J should make a good, if not full, recovery, although it takes up to 6 months.  He was quick to caution me, though, that there is no guarantee. He said he's seen patients with big strokes that make a great recovery, and patients with small strokes that don't.  So I was cautiously optimistic while talking to both J's neurosurgeon and our friend on Thursday (the day after the surgery).   I'm not going to lie, though...I was scared. I was scared that he wouldn't make a good recovery, that he would never walk.  But it was my job to keep a brave face for everyone, as I always do. All in all, though, I was scared but extremely hopeful and optimistic.

The next day, Friday, J made remarkable progress.  He walked the entire floor of the hospital, using a walker and with the help of his nurse.  Now I KNEW he would be ok...he went from not being able to walk a step to walking the whole floor in 24 hours.  Saturday he discharged from the hospital and I took him to an inpatient rehabilitation center. He was there for a few days, where he received intensive (3 hours a day) of speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.  Within a few days, he was walking unassisted (not even using a walker), going up and down stairs, and typing with both hands.  He discharged to home that Wednesday, seemingly back to baseline and even being cleared by the neurologist to drive. He returned to work this week and worked a full week.

What happened to my husband is nothing short of another miracle.  Bad things happen to my family (ie my daughter's neck break last fall) but miracles happen.  With my daughter, her spinal cord wasn't touched when every doctor said she should have been rendered quadripalegic.  With my husband, he had a stroke and made a full recovery within a week.  I believe in miracles, and I believe we have guardian angels looking after us.  As one friend wrote me, "you have a lot of guardian angels, and they like to work overtime."

I am so grateful that J will be ok. It was a harrowing experience, with the stroke, but we came through the other side.  I am looking forward to the battery being implanted next week, and it finally being turned on in a few weeks.  The implications of what it could do for my husband and his symptoms are tremendous.

If you are interested in reading my husband's blog, and reading about this experience from his point of view, please click here.

August 20, 2013

America's Finest City Half Marathon Race Recap ('13)

Yesterday I ran in my 20th half marathon, the America's Finest City Half Marathon (otherwise known as AFC).  This is the third half marathon in San Diego's Triple Crown Challenge:  if you complete the Carlsbad Half or Full Marathon in January, the La Jolla Half Marathon in April, and AFC in August, all in the same calendar year, you earn an extra medal at the end called the Triple Crown.  I had never Triple Crowned before, despite doing numerous half marathons in San Diego.  I first did AFC in 1999, but as that was my first half marathon ever, I didn't know there WAS a Triple Crown. Heck, I don't even know if the Triple Crown Challenge existed back then.  When I started running again 3 years ago, I had intended to Triple Crown in 2011.....but couldn't run La Jolla due to a family obligation.  I then intended to do the challenge in 2012, but couldn't do it for other reasons. I was determined that 2013 would be my year.

The trouble is, I'm injured. I have written extensively on this blog about the sciatic nerve pain I've been experiencing for the past year and nine months, but haven't updated that I finally have the reason: an MRI showed a herniated disc at L4/L5. I do need to write a post about this, but suffice it to say I haven't been running long distances lately.  I had decided about a month ago, when treatment for the herniated disc was still not working, not to do AFC.  I made the painful decision to downgrade to the adjunctive 5k race; it wouldn't qualify me for the Triple Crown medal, but at least I would be doing SOMETHING.  And, as of this past Friday morning, I had planned on doing just that---the 5k.

But I was unsettled.  I was sad....I really wanted to do this race. Not because I had paid for it----there have been several events recently that I couldn't do, due to injury, and I didn't care.  Not because it was one of my beloved half marathons---I have sold my Carlsbad Half Marathon bib twice in recent years, due to injury or travel plans, without a giving it a second thought.  And not because I love the race---while AFC is an okay course, it is far from my favorite. The truth was, I really wanted to do this race for two reasons. First, it would finally let me complete what I started with the Triple Crown.  And second, it would be my 20th half marathon...and this would bring me full circle. As I mentioned, AFC was my first-ever half marathon back in 1999...and the first half marathon I did when I returned to running after a years-long hiatus. I  have also volunteered at this race the past two years, handing out medals at the finish line in 2011 and handing out Triple Crown medals last year.  I wanted THIS race to be my 20th; it was poignant perhaps only to me, but it was poignant nonetheless.

So, what to do? I wanted to run it...but I was injured AND untrained.  I haven't run long since my disastrous half marathon at the end of April in La Jolla, where I cried in pain half the time.  Since then, I have only run up to 5k (3.1 miles).  But in talking to some friends, I made the decision, literally at the 11th hour at packet pickup Friday afternoon, to try the race using a run/walk method.  I did some research on the Jeff Galloway run/walk method, and decided to try it (it went great in training runs).  I would try to run for 2:30 minutes and then walk for 1 minute....and lower the running if necessary. I always take walk breaks anyway, but never prescribed at intervals and this seemed to help me in practice runs.  And I read on the race information (and actually confirmed this with a race director at the expo)  that that if a runner couldn't complete the race for whatever reason, a van would pick them up and take them to the finish.

Aside from the injury, I haven't run long in months!  But, I figured, I am still fit. I have still been biking and swimming and doing some running and doing pool running and the elliptical. I knew I had the fitness to actually complete it.

The way I looked at it, I had nothing to lose. If I didn't go at all, I wouldn't complete the Triple Crown.  If I did the 5k instead of the half marathon, I still wouldn't get my Triple Crown. If I tried the half marathon and had to DNF (did not finish) the race halfway through, I wouldn't get my Triple Crown, but I would have tried.  And best case, I would complete the darned thing as painlessly as possible.  The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was.  I saw three separate outcome possibilities, and honestly, I would have been okay with any of them:

1) Possible outcome #1:  I finish the race, slowly and using a strict run/walk ratio. I don't have any more pain than I would normally have (with the sciatic pain and normal half marathon pain). I finish in their time constraint (3 hours) and I am able to complete the race and Triple Crown.

2) Possible outcome #2:  I finish the race, slowly and using a strict run/walk ratio. I don't have any more pain than I would normally have (with the sciatic pain and normal half marathon pain). I don't finish in their time constaint, so I don't get either the AFC medal or the Triple Crown medal, but in my mind I am a finisher. I don't do these races for the actual medals anyway, I do them for the feeling of completion and accomplishment, so even without the bling I would be okay.

3) Possible outcome #3: I don't finish the race. I have too much pain and need to use the sag van to get me back to the finish, or I need to call my husband to come pick me up. I would be okay with this....quitting if it was too much for me would be a victory and at least I would have tried.

Once I made the decision to attempt the half marathon, I was at peace.  I got my stuff ready (it had been sooooo long since I'd pinned on a race bib!) and went to bed by 8:30.  I set my alarm clock for 4:00, hoping to be out the door by 4:30 (the one thing I don't like about this race is that runners MUST be bussed from the zoo in Balboa Park to the start line at Cabrillo National Monument.  The last bus leaves at 6:00, with a race start of 7:00, so to ensure that you get through all the traffic getting into the zoo you should leave very early). 

Of course, typical for me, I was up earlier than the alarm. I woke up at 3:30 and was out the door by 4:10.  I hit NO traffic getting into Balboa Park, found a parking spot close to the shuttles and was soon on the bus.  Once at Cabrillo National Monument, I had a few hours to wait. I was glad I had an extra warm throw-away sweatshirt to keep away the morning chill. I just relaxed, ate a Luna Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle, used the facilities, found one of my friends, and watched the sun come up.  Finally it was time to line up and run!  One cool thing they announced was that earlier that day, 24 (I think) soldiers in Afghanistan also completed a half marathon, and would be receiving the same medals and t-shirts that we did. I thought that was awesome!

I started the 2:30 run/1:00 walk ratio from the very start. It was weird stopping to walk so soon, but I wanted to stick to my plan.  The first few miles carries out out of the National Monument, past the military cemetery.  The next few miles, through Point Loma, are always the best, as the residents there take to their lawns to spectate.  Here I saw this hilarious sign (referring to our sex-crazed San Diego mayor) and saw two little boys offering an "energy station", giving high-five slaps. I stopped and asked them for double energy, and was rewarded with a double high-five from each boy. 

The next few miles were uneventful. We left Point Loma and headed toward Harbor Drive. Amazingly, I was feeling good.  I had a little bit of pain, but frankly it was the same pain I feel all the time, whether I'm running or just sitting!  Whenever it might have not felt good, a walk break came on. I was really enjoying the 2:30/1:00 ratio.  The weather was perfect (and I mean PERFECT; we didn't see the sun the entire day and I never wore my sunglasses) and I had some gorgeous views of San Diego, the bay, and the Coronado Bridge in the distance.

Beautiful San Diego
Around mile 9, I started to have some pain. Not really the sciatic pain from my herniated disc; this was more the normal pain one would feel from running so far, untrained. My legs were not happy. Cardio-wise, I was fine (thank goodness for all the cross-training I do!) but my legs were grumpy. At mile 9 I downgraded my ratio to run 2:00/walk 1:00.  Soon, I was walking a bit more.  I was a tiny bit sad, since as of the 10k split I had been on pace to do about a 2:45 half (most of my half marathons average about 2:35) but I didn't really care---I wanted to keep my promise and not hurt myself.  So, at mile 10 I walked more and more, and actually I ended up walking most of the last 3 miles.

The last bit is always brutal---it's 1-2 miles uphill---but I took it nice and slow, not really even walking, more like strolling. I knew I would be ok on time, and I wanted to keep the pain to a minimum.  At mile 12, I started to really hurt all over, but at that point I knew I could easily walk the last mile to the finish line.  If I had felt that bad (mostly super all-over muscle rebellion) earlier in the race I probably would have called for the van to drive me to the finish line. But at mile 12? Of a 13 mile race? No way. So, I strolled it in, and ran the last .05 mile, crossing the finish line as I heard them announce my name. I finished in a tad over 3 hours, far from a horrible time considering how much walking I did, and still got both my AFC medal and my Triple Crown medal.

At the post-race festival, I couldn't find gear check (I had checked my throw-away sweatshirt).  I'm sure it was there somewhere, but I was so sore I didn't care and left it.  One logistic for anyone wishing to do this race: park at the zoo.  I parked across the street from the zoo, at the naval hospital.  This was good, in a way, since it's directly across the street from the finish area and I barely had to walk to my car. However, getting out is tough. I only spent about 20 minutes trying to exit the parking lot, but I heard others took over an hour.  The zoo, while a bit of a walk from the finish area, would have been a much easier exit.

All told, I am very happy I attempted this half marathon.  Even if I had had to quit, I would have been proud for trying and listening to my body. That I finished, and met my ultimate goal, while doing a lot of walking and listening to my body, was awesome.