Morgan Hill Half Marathon: Closing the 13.1-mile Chapter of My Journey

5am. The alarm went off. I rose out up bed thinking “am I really doing this?”

6am. I dressed in the tech shirt I received at my very first 5-K race in September 2013. I put on my favorite ‘Running is Cheaper than Therapy’ cap. I taped up my knee and ankle. I laced up my blue Mizuno ascend running shoes. Out I went, navigating in the still-dark streets, to my last 13.1 mile race in Morgan Hill.

7am. Crowds of enthusiastic and excited runners blasted off the start line. I thought to myself “okay I’m really doing this”

The journey of running began more than two years ago in the spring of 2013. I was that person who hated running but chose to do it to continue the change-of-lifestyle adventure I had began fall of 2012. To this date, I still didn’t know why I chose running. Maybe it was the easiest thing to do at a relatively inexpensive cost where no gym membership or fancy equipment was required. Maybe it was about conquering what I hate. Either way, I have no regrets even as I have struggled with the idea of walking 13.1 miles today at my last half marathon at Morgan Hill.

Tackling 13.1 miles in any fashion requires effort. The idea of being out there WALKING it has been a tough one for me to swallow. Call it pride. Call it ego. Call it crazy. But at the end, I wanted to finish this chapter of my journey in any fashion I could. I registered for the Morgan Hill Half (MHH) last year as my goal to PR. Unfortunately, I injured my right ankle and knee while training hard. I had to postpone, which to my gratitude, the race organizer allowed it!

Fast forward to 2015, I never really recovered, flopping few races and finally decided that 5-10K was the more reasonable distance for my body. I had completely forgot about MHH until end of August when the e-mail showed up about the race! I thought ‘maybe I could still train?’ Then, I had to deal with allergy that totally overtook my life. I barely had enough energy to stay active, let alone train a half marathon.

I finally decided 1) postponing for another year made no sense 2) getting out there was the ultimate goal. As I  cheered for my friends during this year’s SJRnR half marathon in September, it felt nostalgic. So I set the bar really low – ‘go out and just start’ If I had to DNF, so be it. At least I finally could say I made the effort and closing out the half marathon chapter with sincere effort.

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I finished. In smiles. The second part was the more glorifying part because the smiles came from meeting two walkers at mile 5. They were angels. As droves of runners passed me, I was left behind as the sole walker. I had to admit that was hard – the feeling of being all alone out there. Having two new friends who shared similar story of injury-turn-walker made me feel totally in good company. We shared stories. We laughed at the ‘mile12’ jokes/conversations. It was totally awesome!

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I’m grateful to the two new friends. I’m grateful to close out the half marathon chapter, in smiles. I’m grateful to my friends who have come for support. I’m grateful for the journey thus far. I will continue running in some fashion, perhaps shorter distances, and definitely with trail running.

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Now onto recovery…

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Closing the Running/Racing Chapter, Opening Another Door

I have been taking a long hiatus from training for various reasons. The main one really is about taking care of myself for other more important life goals. I have experienced way too many injuries to justify training for a race. It took me a while to realize that backing off did not mean backing out. For the last 6 months, I have struggled with slowing down. It may sound braggy but truthfully, it has been about re-defining who I have came to identity myself – a runner in training.

I accidentally found the love for running almost 2.5 years ago with completing my first 5K with the “Race to the End of Summer”, which took place Labor Day weekend in 2013. I had started training spring of that year. Before that spring, running was probably on the list of “top 5 things I hate”. Subsequently, I completed San Jose’s Rock and Roll Mini Marathon (5 miles). I was hooked, not necessarily the competition (although RnR did open my eyes to ‘Elite Runners’ as they circled back to the starting line just as my corral was being released)

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If there was a climax to my running adventure, it would have been completing San Francisco Rock and Roll Half Marathon in spring of 2014. One Golden Gate Bridge, 13.1 miles, and many many self-talks later, I was in tears to cross that finish line. I had a black toe as my badge of honor to show. I walked proud and prouder into registering for San Jose Fit, almost immediately, to better my time for next half marathon. For one insane second, I contemplated ‘what if I signed up for marathon training?’

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My prize would have been completing Morgan Hill Half Marathon (MHHM) in the fall of 2014 as the end goal training with San Jose Fit. The key was “would have been”. The rigorous training included track workout, which was the first time I was introduced to the ideas of farleck (speed workout). Hm… I should have listened to my body. Again the key words were “should have”. I got so wrapped up in the whole “no pain no gain” and “pushing beyond the limit” was what half marathon was about, right?

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During the six months training for MHHM, my brother-in-law introduced Brazen Racing to me, which was the local running company that organized races in local parks (read: trail running!) Another accidental find of another love – I discovered that running on trails in the nature was so my thing! Less crowds, more nature – what is there NOT to love? I decided for my 10K mark, I would show it with a Brazen medal.

I did not account for the fact that trail running was different, in some ways, more technical as I had to navigate hills and uneven terrains. I learned the “what goes up must come down” law of “running hills” Running up was hard but coming down was even harder! (hello, hip flexor muscles, where have you been all my life?) The lack of hill skills finally did me in on the this 10K race – I ended up straining majority of my quads and spraining my right ankle. I lost the footing, literally, half mile from the finish line. This was probably the biggest mistake – I ran the last 1/2 mile since I was “so close” anyway, right??

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Okay, that was not the biggest mistake. The biggest mistake was not resting. The Brazen race was in July. MHHM was in October. I wanted to continue training. So I did. Why not? I probably took a week off when the ankle was swollen but as soon as I could, I was back running with taping my ankle. I was so proud of myself of managing this little mishap. Then, in August, during one long run, I sprained the same ankle again! (What a surprise…) This was when I started thinking, okay maybe, just maybe, I should, probably, possibly, re-consider this training. Stubborn as stubborn goes, I repeated the same strategy – rest minimally and roughing it out.

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By September, I was not able to push past 10 miles mark on the long run without pain. What was more alarming was the right knee started to feel pain as well. At this point, I was thinking, just one more month and since I was already at 10 miles, I could really just willpower through the last 3.1 miles on actual race day. Totally manageable, totally doable, and totally a bad idea! By chance, I was in LA visiting my newborn niece and saw our family doctor there. He noticed that I was fidgety with my right ankle (note: injured ankle+heels were not a good combination) He decided to check me out with some massage (he’s a Chinese medicine doctor a special gift with sports injury) Within minutes (and few questions of why and what have you been doing?), he gave me the recommendation: “STOP RUNNING, immediately”

The repeated ankle injury never healed properly, which had been causing the calf muscle to overwork and overcompensate. That had in turn affected the stability of the right knee. There were numerous weird muscle nodules on my calf that I had no idea existed. Few painful therapeutic massage were evident that the doctor was right. Interestingly, he checked the left side, which I promptly told him was unnecessary, but ended up in a loud scream as he found similar nodules on the left calf!

Truthfully told, I did not need any doctor to diagnose this. I kind of knew that my body was not in best shape. I supposed having a doctor telling me this was the final breaking point. Some of his words were “irreparable damages” and “long term effects”. I had to really think about what was more important to me. I finally contacted the race director for MHHM to see if I could postpone my race for another year or transfer to another runner. Fortunately, the director was very understanding and told me either way was fine. (Kudos to MHHM, as this was not the common practice)

I finally took the fall 2014 off. Not long after, I was itching to start. I decided I would come back with another Brazen’s 10K in early Spring this year. This time, I chose a totally FLAT course (Coyote Creek) thinking it would be “safe”. I dragged my feet to the finish line. Nope, ankle and knee were still in recovery mode. I was actually happy to cross that finish line.

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After a long conversation with my dad and family doctor, I finally decided that I would continue to run leisurely and not register for any races this year. I loved training for races: it gave me the drive to beat my own record. I loved the feeling of finishing and accomplishing things. But I also learned that I was in the dog chasing its tail spiral. Each race pushed me away from being fully recover. I had to change my perspective: no race NOW, but not never.

Now, sitting at my computer, recovering from a 6-mile hike at Nisene Marks Forest, I’m learning to redefine (yet again) my active lifestyle. I no longer set any goals of how many miles/minutes I run. Some days, I can barely finish 1 mile. Some days, I enjoyed 6-miles hikes. Some days, yoga just felt more right than anything else. And on days like today, I’m loving my other adventure: trying recipes with cooking and baking.

Life is forever evolving. I’m grateful to have the experience of running and training for races. It definitely gave me way more than I had expected. Now onto the adventures…

The Pain of NOT Training a.k.a Running 10K Hellyer with Brazen

Last Saturday, I ran Brazen’s Hellyer 10K with my brother-in-law, who raced in the half marathon’s category. Summary: my brother-in-law set his personal record of 1hr25mins for the half while I finished my 10K in almost the same amount of time. Yup, I was not trained and I paid for every mile and some.

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I started at a new company in February that took majority of my focus, therefore, training suffered. I went into the race having ran ZERO miles that week (mistake #1) and having the task of preparing my husband’s surprise birthday party that would happen later post race (mistake #2, but really fun though!) I was undertrained in every part of my body, which resulted in hurting everywhere, except my hair and my fingernails! I actually felt worst than when I ran my first half marathon almost a year ago. I did not think that was possible.

I went into the race with a 7min run/1min walk plan — well, that worked for the first half. Then by mile 4, I was feeling pain in my right knee. By mile 5, I was just walking for most part. By mile 5.5, I said “F—it, the knee wasn’t getting better, so let me get off this pavement ASAP so I ran” I really was happy to have crossed the finish line!

My biggest problem was the lack of core muscle. Nothing held together – therefore my form suffered. It then just crumbled from there… Luckily, the surprise birthday part was later same day. Tequila shots and nice chardonnay helped with the pain. Seeing friends and having a wonderful time certainly helped!

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Lesson learned: TRAIN TRAIN TRAIN! The 10K helped me realize how my winter hiatus has hurt my fitness. It is time to get back in shape through better eating, consistent workout, and stronger mindset. I’m contemplating to register for Double Dipsea. That is a heck of a race… and one that DEFINITELY requires training. Going into that without proper training is like a punishment!

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Screw it, I’m running!

This past Sunday, San Jose was absolutely gorgeous, with close to 75F sunny weather. My husband and I went to my favorite trail to enjoy the day. It was amazing looking at the changing colors in a very comfortable temperature.

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Before I knew it, seeing all the runners passing by. I was itching to join them! I said, “screw my silly ankle” and let’s just try out a test run! I was very careful. I set out the limit of 30 minutes and I’d do a super easy interval running of 90 seconds run and 30 seconds walk. Oh it was so freeing to hit the pavement again! I thought I’d be out of breathe badly as I stopped running for almost 2 months (thanks to my bummed ankle). No. The joy of just running took over. Serotonin and endorphins, baby!

I felt I could run another 30 minutes. But I stuck to the plan, as I was supposed to be on recovery. It was good I stayed with the plan. Later that night, I felt the knee tightening but no pain. (Phew!) Can you blame me for wanting to run in this setting?

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I did not know what this meant regarding my plan to supposedly take rest of the year off. All I knew was it felt soooo goooood to run again!!

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Changing It Up for Fun

After a week off from traveling to see friends and family in LA, my running training took a hit. Training in LA wasn’t an option as most of the time was spent with family and friends. While it was fun to see friends/family, I really did miss running. When I got back from LA, it felt so awesome to run 5K! 

I definitely was looking forward to the long run over the holiday weekend although I was a little concern about how much in shape I was after missing last week’s long run. So I decided to take the long run to somewhere I haven’t ran before. After seeing my friends in LA area who lived near the beach, I loved the ideas of running along the coast. I drove 45 minutes to Santa Cruz, the nearest beach/coast to me. 

Oh, it was SO worth it! 

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I started at Natural Bridge’s Beach along Cliff Drive on the Santa Cruz’s coast. My plan was to run all the way to Santa Cruz Boardwalk and back. My recent longest run was 8 miles and my plan had been to equalled the same distance. I wasn’t really sure if the out-and-back would make 8 miles but it looked close enough on the map. 

The view/scenery made the first few miles very easily passable. The day was perfect with sun out and there were beach strollers out and about along with surfers in the ocean. What a nice day~ 

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The lack of training definitely started to creep up on the way back. By 6.5 mile and the final mile, I had slowed to a walk because my knee was acting up. I started feeling the pull from the calf. I did not want to risk injury so I decided to walk. In the end, I put in 7.5 miles, not entirely close to my original plan of 8 miles but it was an honest effort. And the view was so worth it!  

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I definitely want to return to this route again and run further the next time. It is absolutely gorgeous~ Sometimes, changing up the routine can be so much fun and motivating! 

More than half way, that’s more than last time!

Last time I ran the SF RnR 1/2 Marathon, my longest training run for that race was 10K or 6.25 mile. I only gave myself 4 months to train, which proved to be insufficient, as life/sickness/traveling happened. I also learned it took time to condition the body.

I still finished the first 1/2 marathon and had the experience of my life. I must confess: after mile 8, I used mostly will power to finish the race. This time around, the second half marathon training, I gave myself more than 6 months. That proved to be a good move as I struggled with bronchitis for three weeks in June and was side tracked. 

Finally, the “comeback” streak started with the 10K Bad Bass Brazen Race. At that race, I equalled my past training’s mark. The following weekend, I went out to Guadalupe Trail for 7 mile long run. It was not satisfactory because the heat got the best of me as well as the unfamiliarity of the trail. I still logged the miles in.

Just yesterday, I finished 8 miles on the more familiar territory of Los Gatos Creek Trail. I started from downtown Campbell and made my way to Lake Vasona in Los Gatos. I was thinking to myself “wow, I could now run from city to city” Something I heard other runners said in the past but never understood how that was possible. 

I would admit that mile 7-8 was definitely challenging where I had to keep saying “stay strong, finish strong” as I was also practicing “giving all I have” on the last mile. I didn’t want to “struggle” on the last mile as I did on the last race. Finishing strong is a goal I have for this second 1/2 marathon! 

I also learned from yesterday that going for the high milage, it was important to take it step by step. It was helpful for me to divide the milage into sections with my self talks. It was actually hilarious thinking back, I focused on getting four miles in (which was easy since I’ve done that many times). Then, I focused on getting to mile 6, also something I’ve done. Then to mile 7, which I told myself, okay, I JUST did that last week, easy! Then mile 8, I started saying “okay, this is the real training, just ONE mile, I can do it”. 

I don’t know about other runners and how they “self motivate” but I talk to myself A LOT. It’s a good thing that at least I do it in my mind, otherwise, people would think I’m nuts! Hahaha! This week, I may consider doing 8 miles again just to make it a solid conditioning. This is another beauty of giving myself 6 months to train. I feel way more relaxed to adjust training with fluidity and flexibility. When I can, I accelerate with attending race and increase milage. And I when need it, I can repeat. I really think for novice runner (like myself), it’s important to give at least 30-40% buffer on recommended training plans. Life happens. And conditioning needs time to take place. It’s not a “run it, forget it” type of sports. 

Finally, I’m super excited that training is more than half way with achieving mile 8! Yay! 

 

First Trail Race, I (heart) Brazen Racing!

Finally, I participated in a Brazen Racing event. I’ve heard many good things about this local trail racing company and yesterday I finished the Bad Bass 10K at Lake Chabot Regional Park. I had originally signed up for a 10K race closer to home in June but had to drop it due to bronchitis. I was very much looking forward to the Bad Bass 10K, though with slight trepidation. 

For one, yesterday was my first trail racing. Although the race started with paved road, it had plenty of trail and hills throughout the course. I saw the course map before registering and was wondering about 650ft+ elevation gain. I was actually hesitant but my brother-in-law who had done the course encouraged me to try it. He did tell me that it would be a “giant hill”. 

Indeed, it was a giant hill. At the bottom of the climb, I had to stop and wondered if I wanted to run it or walk it. Well, it didn’t take long before the hills decided for me. I ran one small hill and walked the rest of the one-mile incline. My heart could not handle the aerobic activity from climbing over one mile on series of hills. 

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The saving grace was the view as I climbed higher and higher (and wonder when this was topping out). It was a gorgeous summer day, although on the warmer side. At the start of the race, at 8.30am, it was already 70F. Ideally, cooler would make it easier to run. In any event, the view made it worth while! 

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The uphill was work, but the real challenge came with the down hill. The 10K turn around at the top of the hill. I had to take a break and mentally prepared myself for the downhill. I knew I wanted to run it to see how I’d feel. I mentally went over the form (short strides, slight lean, minimize heel strike) and set forward the downhill course. I did well for the first half mile, but my right knee started bonking out half way. I had to really focus to make it through the entire downhill section. The fun part was it felt really fast (compared to the uphill!). 

The last 2.5 miles was flat with small rolling up/down’s. It felt so good to run that flat portion!! Trail elevation made me appreciate flat running like no other! By then I was pretty exhausted and I didn’t stop to take any photos around the lake. It was a gorgeous route. I wanted to focus on getting to the finish line because I was tempted few times to stop and walk it. My knee wasn’t feeling great but no significant pain. 

I actually made it to the finish line without stopping! But I believed the uphill and especially downhill took a toll on the legs. Right before I turned left towards the finish line, I had a misstep and slightly sprain my right ankle. I was not thrilled but with the finish line so close, I said “the heck with it!” I sprinted! It felt good to finish! 

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I hopped over to the first aid after catching my breathe. It wasn’t a bad sprain (phew!) so the medical staff helped me to wrap it for tight compression. The overjoy of finishing a trail 10K probably propped me up as a mood-elevator (no advil needed!) Other than the sprain, it was a very enjoyable race. Brazen racing has a new fan now! 

By the way, for my all Bay Area runners, if you haven’t done a Brazen, you have to sign up for one. It was so pleasant to run with them:

1) The medal was amazing, specifically and customized for each event. I loved that! 

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2) The race was well organized and intimate. I could tell there were runners who became friends through Brazen. It was a tight little community. The race was about 260 people for half marathon, 10K, and 5K. Very manageable. Unlike the RnR I ran, parking was easy and there was not delay at the start line! 

 

 

 

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3) Granted, there was no “cheerleaders” (spectators). The runners were just amazing to cheer you up. And let me tell you, there was fruits, bars, M&Ms, and ice pops at the aid station! Totally different and fun! 

4) Did I mention the trail running part? Away from the road, buildings, and crowds? 

I highly recommend Brazen Racing events. And yeah for me, first trail race done! I’m honestly considering a trail half marathon as my next project after November’s Morgan Hill Half Marathon 🙂