Saturday, October 30, 2010

My First Marathon - Victoria, British Columbia on 10/10/10

I've been training all summer for this race, slowly building up my mileage and endurance. Three weeks before the big day I did my last long training run. The plan was to run about 20 miles, but as there were no mile markers on the course that my running buddies and I chose, we just ran for time. After that run I felt pretty sick and disheartened. I hadn’t really eaten a proper breakfast, there wasn’t enough water to drink as we ran, and the sun was pretty intense that day. It was the first time I thought that I might not be able to complete a marathon. I mean, if I felt that sick after 20 miles, how could I do 26.2? But when I looked at a map later on that day I calculated that we had, in fact, run 22.5 miles. Knowing that I had run 22.5 miles and only had a few more to go on marathon day (instead of an extra 6.2 miles) made me feel confident again. After that 22.5 mile run it was time to start tapering. For you non-runners out there, that means that you slowly take your mileage down so that on race day you have plenty of energy left. So the weekend after the 22.5 miler I did a 12 mile run, and the next weekend was an 8 mile run. Most, if not all, marathon training plans have a couple of weeks of tapering. And I followed the plan. But it made me a little uncomfortable. I mean, for weeks I had been building up my mileage every weekend and I felt like I had great momentum. Now, I had gotten all the way to 22.5 miles and I was expected to go the other way. I was scared of losing my groove. So I worried about losing my momentum, but other than that, I didn’t really think much about the race. I was more worried about our travel logistics (Which ferry to take to Victoria? What time did we need to leave the house in order to get to the ferry on time? Which maps and confirmations did I need to print before we left the house? What was the exchange rate for Canadian dollars?) So I didn’t have time to ruminate over my impending run.

On Saturday, October 9, Robb and I successfully made our way to Canada. (It was my first visit to the country and I’ll write a separate blog post detailing the tourism aspect of our trip.) That night we met up with my running friends for a carbo-loading dinner. Becky, Molly, and Laura are all seasoned half-marathoners and were running 13.1 miles the next day. Larry and I have both run half-marathons before, but it would be our first time running a full marathon. After eating we discussed logistics for the next day and then Robb and I headed back to our hotel to get some sleep.
Carbo-Load Night: Me, Larry, Laura, Molly, Becky

After a fitful night’s sleep I woke up on October 10, nervous and excited. The marathon start-time was late, not until 9:00, so I had plenty of time to shower, dress, and hydrate. Robb and I stopped in the restaurant downstairs so I could eat an English muffin with peanut butter and one fried egg (turned out to be an excellent breakfast for marathon fuel) and then we made our way to the start line. It was a cool morning and while a little chilly standing on the street in my shorts and t-shirt, I knew that the clothing I chose would be perfect once I started running. I was just thankful that it wasn’t raining. The forecast for that weekend included heavy downpours, but we lucked out on marathon day. (Our friends in Portland, Oregon running a marathon at the same time weren’t so lucky and were subjected to heavy and cold downpours during their entire race.) I was a little nervous in the minutes leading up to the start gun going off, and I think I even told Larry that I had changed my mind about this whole marathon thing. But mostly I was calm and just working on trying not to psyche myself out.
Finally the gun went off and Larry and I started running our first marathon. We spent the first mile or so finding our pace and watching the crowd thin out. We both are slow and steady runners and we had a lot of people pass us. We probably hadn’t even gone a ½ mile before I decided that a port-a-potty stop was in my near future. During all my training runs I had never had to go to the bathroom during my runs. But on race day I was worried about making sure I had enough hydration and probably drank way more than I usually do. So within two miles of starting our race, I already had to stop. I told Larry to go on without me and we would meet up later. Luckily, that early in the race there isn’t a long line of runners waiting their turn for a bathroom break, so I was in and out pretty quickly. At that point I felt much better and just settled in for the long haul. I had my iPod shuffle playing (which my husband had lovingly filled for me with my favorite work-out music) and I just ran. There were a few spots along the route where musicians had set up to entertain and encourage the runners, and at those points I would just pause my music for awhile; my favorite performer was the lone bagpiper. The course was beautiful and had a ton of variety; we ran through the streets of downtown Victoria, around the royal Parliament buildings, around a local park, through high-end neighborhoods, and along the coast. My favorite part of the course was anything that was alongside the coast, especially as the day wore on and the sun started shining through the clouds and highlighting the water and rocky shores.

Eventually I caught up with Larry and we ran together for a few miles. We pointed out some random scenery or interesting-dressed runners every once in awhile, but mostly ran silently next to each other, thinking whatever thoughts we needed to in order to keep going. When we passed the 12 kilometer marker, I reminded Larry that we had just finished the equivalent of the Rhody Run – I think that run in Port Townsend was the first race that Larry and I ran together. Those Canadians are smart and follow the metric system; it was interesting running along a course that had more kilometer markings than mile markings. The miles were only marked every 5 miles, which I actually ended up appreciating. I wasn’t thinking with every passing mile about how far left I had to go; I only had to see those 5 mile increments to know that I had just managed to achieve running 5 more miles. I loved seeing the 15 and 20 mile markers.

I did experience a couple of difficult mental blocks at times. For example, a large part of the course was an out-and-back section. When I first saw large crowds heading towards the finish line, while I was still trying to make it to the half-way point, I thought to myself “Well, good, I’m almost to the half-way point because look at all these people who have already turned around.” I kept expecting the turnaround point to be just around the next corner. I was amazed at how good I felt and that I was almost half-way done. But that feeling was a big, fat, fail. Most runners were much faster than me, and I still had several miles to go before I would reach the turnaround point. The longer it took to get to the turnaround point, the more disheartened I became realizing how na├»ve I was to think that I was almost half-way done. I think that emotional turmoil wore me down and once I reached 12-13ish miles, I started slowing down. Larry pulled away from me and took the lead. I continued to run, slow and steady, but felt doubt that I would be able to finish feeling strong.

I had been told by a friend who had completed a few marathons before that it was helpful to have a special saying that you could repeat to yourself to help inspire you and focus on finishing. I tried to find or think of any quotes that could help me before the marathon began, but I went into the race without finding the words that would speak to me. Luckily, a few miles into the race I saw a couple of little girls on the sidelines, obviously cheering on a parent. One of the girls had a homemade sign with the most perfect quote on it, "Keep Calm and Carry On.” Those simple five words spoke to me and became my mantra. I repeated that to myself throughout the race. After the 15 mile mark I started to feel excited again. I was over half-way done and I only had 11 miles left. At the 23 kilometer mark Larry decided it was his turn to stop at the port-a-potty, which allowed me to catch up and actually move ahead. While he almost caught up with me at one point, and we said hi to each other, I picked up the pace and continued pressing ahead. I reached the 20 mile mark and couldn’t believe that I was already done with the previous 5 miles – only 6.2 miles left to go. I kept expecting to hit “the wall,” but I don’t think I ever did. Then I started passing people who were running slow or walking at that point. While I’m not a fast runner, my strength is in running a steady pace. Other runners have variations in their speed and tend to go a lot faster in the beginning. While it’s nerve-wracking to see so many people go faster than you in the beginning of the race, I know that I will end up passing a lot of those people towards the end of the run. The closer I got to the finish line, the more I repeated “Keep Calm and Carry On,” but I knew I would finish. I hit the 25 mile marker and then shortly after that reached the “1 mile to go” marker and picked up my pace. Let me tell you, the last mile of a marathon is the longest mile you’ll ever run. It seemed to go on forever. At a little less than the “1 kilometer left to go” sign I saw my running friends cheering for me. Laura ran up to me and patted me on the back and told me that I just had a little bit left. I smiled to my supporters and continued the long ½ mile towards the finish line. I came around the last corner and the finish line came into my sight. I started scanning the crowds looking for Robb and finally heard him cheer for me. I ran past him, giving him a smile and a wave as he watched me cross the finish line.
A medal was placed around my neck, a plastic “blanket” was wrapped around my shoulders, and I started walking awkwardly through the finishing chute, picking up water, bagels, and cookies to give my starving body some fuel. Robb met me at the exit and was positively beaming – he was so proud of me. I, on the other hand, was somewhat numb. I couldn’t really think about what I had just accomplished, I just was thinking about how hungry, tired, and sore I was. Larry finished the race a few minutes after me and after we took a victory photo together. I later found out that my parents in Florida were able to watch me cross the finish line for my first marathon in Canada, thanks to the live streaming video showing the finish line on the marathon’s website.
I ended up walking a lot the night of the marathon and the next day because we were being tourists in Victoria. It was probably good though to stretch out my legs and muscles instead of sitting at home on a couch. I was sore for the next week. I walked a lot slower and had a hard time going down stairs. I had a little knee pain, but that didn’t last for too long. I was surprised to discover that my hips were really sore, and I wonder if that pain is what older people feel all the time. The pain in my Achilles’ tendons is the most concerning. While they don’t hurt all the time now, they still hurt a little bit in the mornings when I first get out of bed (my Mom has had this problem for years, so I need to work on stretching those muscles more now before the pain gets worse and/or permanent.) I took a week off of running to relax and let my body heal, but am back to running several miles every week.
  
My goal for this marathon was to finish and run the entire time (except through the water stops. Have you ever tried running while drinking water from a paper cup? It’s pretty difficult.) And I’m proud to say that I achieved that goal. Other than the brief walking as I re-hydrated, I ran the entire time. My finishing time was 5 hours, 3 minutes. I would have preferred to be under 5 hours and actually expected to finish closer to 4.5 hours, but I really can’t complain because my other goals were met and this was just my first marathon. Yup, I said first; as in the first of many. I’ve decided that I will probably attempt to run that daunting 26.2 miles once a year. I promise I won’t go crazy and do multiple marathons a year (although I initially thought one marathon in a lifetime was crazy.) Training for a marathon is time intensive, so one a year is about as much commitment as I am willing to make. Plus, I want my body to have plenty of time to heal in between races. But ultimately, I think one marathon a year will be good for me because it will continue to help me with my motivation to exercise and it will allow me to work on getting faster! Plus, now instead of saying that “I ran a marathon,” I will be able to say “I’m a marathoner.”

World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way

You don't get to go to a world championship competition in your own town very often. This year Federal Way hosted the World Championship of Sand Sculpting for the first time. It was supposed to bring tourism and prestige to our strip-mall town. Federal Way has an inordinate amount of strip malls that are half-empty and that's really what our city is known for. And that's exactly where they decided to put the World Championship of Sand Sculpting - in the parking lot of an abandoned shopping center, not even off the main drag. The location left much to be desired and I think a lot of locals didn't even know it was there. I know that the city didn't break even this year, but I hear they're going to try again next year in a better location and with better publicity. With that being said, the sand sculptures were incredible. We were so glad that we saw such beautiful and fanciful works of art; it made us sad to know that they wouldn't last!

Running Party and Underwear Run

Robb and I were able to host our first party in September. My running club has an annual membership meeting/party and this year we offered to host it. Besides the 5-10 minutes of discussing actual club business, it was a good party. The chili cook-off this year only had three entries (when last year's chili cook-off had like 10 choices), but the food was still yummy. And of course, the most important part of the fall membership meeting was our annual underwear run. While the men actually stripped to their underwear, the women changed into boxers and t-shirts to run down the street into the dark. (I made sure that our run headed away from our landlord's house.) Most people hung out on our back porch all night, snacking, drinking, and overflowing into the yard. It was a good night and a successful party.

Florida Visit - Labor Day Weekend 2010

I spent Labor Day weekend in Florida to spend time with my family. I can't believe it had been about 1.5 years since the last time I had been to the Sunshine State. It was time for me to make an appearance (and I left Robb at home to save money and have quality parent-daughter time). Thanks to a red-eye flight, the holiday, and our "temporary lay-offs" in Washington once a month to save money, I only took one day of vacation and managed to spend five days in Florida with the family. 

We went to some of my favorite restaurants, including a great tapas restaurant, my favorite beach restaurant, a high-end fish restaurant, a modern Italian restaurant, and a pizza joint with my favorite crust. Basically, as in all of my family vacations, we planned our time based on meals and where we were going to eat. I spent time with the grandparents and some aunts and uncles. I spent a lot of time by the pool and on the beach working on getting a little color to my pale Washington skin.

The most memorable part of the trip was our kayaking adventure. Mom, Dad, my Aunt Margaret, and I decided that we needed a little tandem kayak action. Mom and I shared a kayak, while my Dad took on kayaking with Margaret who had never been on a kayak before. Mom and I are an excellent team and really do well steering and powering through the strokes. Unfortunately, Margaret doesn't seem to have an inherent sense in the kayaking realm, so my Dad struggled a little bit with controlling the kayak. We kayaked along the mangroves to look at water birds and then made our way to a spit of sand to get out and swim for a bit. We also were treated to an amazing dolphin show within a small harbor. A mama dolphin and her baby were swimming around in circles and surfaced many times. And then the baby decided to get frisky and play. That little dolphin started flapping it's tail against the water and then started leaping! It was basically doing circles around us by continually jumping out of the water. It was the cutest thing! After the natural dolphin show we started to paddle back to the kayak rental return. We were half-way across a busy channel when somehow my Dad and Margaret's kayak tipped and they tumbled out. My Mom and I rushed over and started to retrieve items that fell from the boat. Luckily they tipped in a location where their feet actually touched sand, which made hoisting themselves into the kayak a little bit easier. It was actually pretty funny, but I have a feeling it may be a long time before Margaret and Dad go kayaking together again.

I didn't take very many pictures, and somehow most of my pictures were lost. But here are a couple that I took on my phone, even though the quailty isn't great: the beach, me and Dad, me and Mom.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Crater Lake National Park, Diamond Lake Camping, and Random Oregon Road Stops

One of the big items on my list of 30 Things to Do Before I Turn 30 was a visit to Crater Lake National Park. I'd say that three years ago I had never even heard of Crater Lake before. But in my constant hunt of Pacific Northwest activities I stumbled across a description of Crater Lake, Oregon. I discovered that this was the deepest lake in the United States. It was formed in a crater of a volcano and had some of the purest and bluest water in the world. So I decided Crater Lake should go on my 30 Before 30 list. And this summer Robb and I finally decided to create a long weekend for ourselves to drive the 7+ hours down there to camp and visit the park.

When we moved to Washington Robb and I both were interested in spending more time outdoors and going camping together often. His work schedule doesn't allow us to have as many weekends off galavanting in nature as we would like, so it has taken us a long time to get prepared and organized enough to plan this camping trip. While eventually we plan on trying backpacking, this time we decided to camp in a designated campground that had toilets and showers. As a kid my family used to do a lot of this type of camping, but I was a little nervous about it because I hadn't been to a campground in at least 10 years and this was going to be Robb's and my first camping trip together. But we spent a lot of time preparing and making the necessary packing lists. And after a stressful couple of weeks (due to work, life, etc.) we left town Friday morning with our Honda loaded to the brim with supplies.

Close to 8 hours later we arrived at Diamond Lake. I waited too late to make reservations at the Crater Lake campground, so we were forced to find accomodations at Diamond Lake which was only a few minutes from the Crater Lake North Entrance. The Diamond Lake campground was huge and quite lovely. We actually ended up appreciating that we weren't at the Crater Lake Campgrounds because we were able to experience a couple of lakes in one weekend. We had a campsite right on the lake and our tent was somewhat isolated from other campers and the fire pit. As soon as we got to Diamond Lake the mosquitos started biting, so we applied bug spray and really didn't go without it for the next three days (even spraying ourselves directly after taking showers.) Other than the mosquitos and the spiders (stupid nature), the camping was absolutely perfect. The weather was not too hot or cold, the skies were clear, and seeing the Milky Way and shooting stars every night was so peaceful! During the entire weekend we ate hot dogs and brats grilled on a stick over the fire, we tried freeze-dried meals (which were actually very good), had oatmeal, ate sandwiches with tuna, and of course devoured s'mores and lots of wine.
Saturday morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and headed straight for Crater Lake. We drove through the Pumice Desert (made by the exploding Mt. Mazama thousands of years ago) and to the rim of Crater Lake. The first views of the Lake were absolutely breathtaking. I have never in my life seen water so blue and pretty. The rim of the collapsed Mt. Mazama is the border of Crater Lake. There is no water source other than snow (40+ feet a year) and rain, which means that there is no outside polluting to change the water color. We fell in love with Crater Lake from the moment we saw it.
Our next stop was the Visitor's Center to listen to a mini-history lecture and talk to the rangers to help us plan the rest of our trip. We decided to hike the Cleetwood Cove trail that afternoon. This trail is the ONLY access point to get to the water. It's a mile hike down, with a 700 foot elevation drop. There were a ton of people at the water's edge. The park does provide a guided boat tour of Crater Lake, but the $30 price tag per person was a little steep for Robb and me. So we just decided to wade into the lake and hang out for a bit by the water. Robb was brave enough to take a real swim in that cold water and then we started the hike up the hill. Now a 700 foot elevation drop isn't bad. But a 700 foot elevation gain in a mile is terrible! It was a tough hike, but we were pretty impressed with our finishing time.
On Sunday we headed straight for the Mt. Scott trailhead. We were told that Mt. Scott was the highest point in the park and the hike was worth the view of Crater Lake. At the parking lot we were a little apprehensive looking up to where our final destination would be. But we decided if we didn't try the hike we would always regret it. So we did it. We hiked up 1500 feet in 2.5 miles. Wow, were those views incredible from 8,929 feet!
We spent the rest of the day driving around the rim of Crater Lake and stopping at viewpoints and scenic overlooks to take pictures and marvel at nature. We also stopped to look at the Crater Lake Lodge and learn a little history about the opening and renovations of the Lodge. Leaving Crater Lake National Park that evening, close to sunset, was really difficult because I fell in love with it so quickly. I had heard from other people about how beautiful and amazing it was, but I was scared my expectations were not going to be met. I was so wrong. It truly was as phenomenal as everyone said it is. Pictures cannot do this place justice and I cannot overemphasize enough how important it is that I think everyone try to visit Crater Lake and experience it themselves.
Monday morning we woke up, broke down our camp, and loaded the car. We decided to randomly stop at any roadside attractions that looked interesting and take our time going home. Our first important stop was the Lowell Covered Bridge. While this bridge is no longer in use, it was recently refurbished and several informative history panels were posted inside the bridge to read. We were both fascinated by the history of covered bridges and that area in Oregon. Brownsville, Oregon was our next random stop because Robb saw a sign for  Pioneer Museum. After driving four miles away from the interstate we finally found the itsy-bitsy cutie-pie town of Brownsville. The muesum turned out to be huge and had tons of local town artifacts and inforamtion about the Oregon Trail. We also discovered that the movie "Stand By Me" was filmed in Brownsville and we took a little walking tour of the town to see areas that were shot in the movie. Our final stop of the day was in Wilsonville, Oregon. We stopped for a Coke from McDonald's and saw a sign for a Korean War Memorial. We found a simple, but lovely tribute to the Korean War veterans, whether they be American soldiers, NATO forces, Korean soldiers, or civilians.
Our long weekend was really great. The drive was a little long for a 3 night trip, but I think it was totally worth it. And because our camping trip was so succsesful, we hope to plan 2 or 3 trips for next summer!