Athens Marathon ’15

Intro –

After I ran the Boston to Big Sur Challenge back in April I really didn’t think I’d run back-to-back marathons again. It definitely wasn’t easy and wasn’t something that I was keen on doing again. However, when the opportunity came to go to Greece for a “racecation” I was doing research and discovered that the Istanbul Marathon was the following weekend. This race was already on my bucket list so I HAD to do it if we were going to be traveling that far and had already talked about going to Turkey. So, here I was again, faced with back-to-back marathons, but I wasn’t stressed about it at all. I knew I wasn’t going to be running them for time or super fast, so I was pretty confident I’d be ok.

Athens Marathon

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Carb loading with a gyro and greek salad

After having a super late carb up meal around 12:30am after Clint arrived in Athens and only two hours of sleep, I left a sleeping Clint to walk to the metro to get to the buses leaving for the city of Marathonas. The buses loaded up at the Parliament building in Syntagma Square and it was dark. I chatted with a Parisian and another American from the Bay Area on the bus, which made time pass quickly. The sun was rising and it was beautiful when we arrived. I dropped off my gear bag and headed for a porta pottie. In the meantime, runners were warming up on the track at the field we were at. I watched them go round and round. It was like watching a treadmill with lots of people. It just kept going and going. Not long after, we got in our corrals and we were asked to raise our right hands and a special pledge was read out load, although I couldn’t understand what they were saying. As it turned to 9am, the balloons were released and the corrals were off!

photo 1 (5)It was very exciting starting the race and running through Marathonas. I saw these very cool historical kilometer signs along the route designating the marathon course. Not long after we started I noticed spectators in the town passing out small branches of olive leaves to the runners as we passed by. An old woman handed one to me and I quickly figured out how I was going to hold it the entire race, hoping it would give me energy to finish. Many runners tucked them into their hydration belts or hats. I managed to slide mine behind my cell phone armband.

The weather was a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be. I had heard the hills were going to be tough but I hadn’t expected warm conditions. And coming off of being hungover the day before, I had a feeling the warm weather would affect me. I wasn’t concerned with my overall time so I tried to keep a slower pace, but I still struggled during part of it. It was pretty warm and humid, and my body doesn’t do well in these kind of elements.

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This was a gradual hill…

I was told there would be hills, but didn’t think much of it. I’ve done Heartbreak Hill a few times, but these hills were tough. Long, gradual hills (they call them “gentle long hills”) for most of the middle of the race. The last 6 miles were downhill so I just had to get through the damn hills. I saw a lot of people walking and pulling off with cramps and even witnessed a girl projectile vomit. I felt bad for her and asked if she needed help. She said no as she threw up again…and again. I offered to get a medic which was nearby but she refused help.

The water stations were great and there were plenty, but I dislike when races give full water bottles. It’s such a waste. They also had lots of electrolytes and fruit along the way. Toward the end they even had cups of Coca Cola. I was so happy to have a cup of that sugary goodness. The bubbles were great as well.

There were periods of the course that had lots and lots of spectators yelling “Bravo! Bravo!” but there were definitely stretches with no spectators at all. I did my best to high five as many kids as I could as I ran by. There were quite a few security or police posted along the way as well. As we reached the end and started our way into the center of the city of Athens, the crowds got larger and larger. I looked around hoping to see an American flag or maybe even see Clint, even though I told him to be at the end. We had to designate a meetup spot since we couldn’t communicate by phone. As the crowds got larger and louder, I got more excited to run into the 1896 Panathenaikos Stadium.

photo 4 (2)The last mile was exciting! As I entered the stadium, I pulled out my phone and took video of the last moments. It was unreal. The stadium was so big and there were so many people in the stands. It was loud and amazing. I really don’t know how to describe it. I just looked around at everything trying to take it in.

The unfortunate thing was the volunteers or security, don’t really remember which, wouldn’t let us stop and take pics after we finished. They were just trying to get us through the lines and move us along. I snuck a few pics anyway and then made my way through the long lines to the gear check area, where I told Clint to meet me. Poor guy had waited an hour for me. But I was really glad to see him and he had made me an olive branch crown, which was so sweet. After I got my bearings and relaxed, I made him walk back into the stadium to see it. I wanted him to see how grand and amazing it was. This was history here and he needed to go in there.

IMG_0399We spent a little bit of time in the stands and watched some runners finish. It was so cool, but I knew I wanted to see the stadium empty of all these people at some point in our trip. After getting a few selfies, we walked to the Plaka area and had lunch and relaxed. It was so cool to see all the runners walking around in the area with their medals around their necks. Locals would ask if I ran the full marathon and were impressed. An employee at a boutique we stopped in asked me how I liked the race and I said it was amazing, especially running into the stadium, and then I started to choke up. She knew how special this race was.

This year’s race broke the record of having more than 43,000 total participants and came from 100 countries. 16,000 came to run the classic course (marathon only). Not only is this course the original course, but also the same course used in the 2004 Olympics.

Some of the cool things included in the registration fee: a 5-day transportation pass that could be used for any public transportation during my stay (which was so helpful!),  a cool messenger bag only for the out of town participants, a great Adidas participant shirt, a bad ass finisher medal, and the glory of following the footsteps of Pheidippides on this historic course. It’s a bucket list item for sure if you love running marathons. It wasn’t easy, but when is running a marathon ever easy??

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Istanbul Marathon ’15

After running the Athens Marathon, I just did a lot of walking all over Greece and Turkey, so my legs felt really good. I never felt super sore. And I never really thought about the next marathon I was going to run until it was time to go to the expo.

We arrived into Istanbul on Friday afternoon. We had arranged with our airbandb host to meet a private driver at the airport and paid a little extra to have him drive us to the expo on the way into town. I had noticed that the expo was much closer to the airport than to where we were staying so it worked out much better to have him take us there first thing. We told the driver we would be quick and we ran in, grabbed my bib, my shirt and gear bag, and then found a person who spoke English to ask about the buses to get to the start. A lot of people in Turkey do not speak English, so thank goodness there was someone who could help out.

Clint also saw a wall of names and told me to look for my name. We also ran through the expo vendors looking for a kt tape vendor with no luck. I needed a small piece to cover where I had chafed under my sports bra at the Athens Marathon. Oh well, I’ll figure something out.

IMG_0973On race morning, we weren’t sure if Clint could go on the buses with us to the other side of the Bosphorus Bridge, but I wanted him to at least go with me to the bus pickup area to see me off. He was leaving the country the same morning and wouldn’t be around to see me finish so I needed him to be with me for part of it.

The bus pickup area was right next to the Hagia Sophia, which was quite beautiful at that time of morning. As we boarded the buses, I kissed Clint goodbye. I kinda teared up knowing I wasn’t going to see him for a couple days and he wouldn’t be at the finish to greet me, which was the first time I would be by myself after a race.

IMG_0981When we reached the other side of the bridge, we had a lot of time to wait until start time. It was a little windy and cool, but I knew it was going to get warmer. It was also another 9am start time for the marathon. I got rid of my gear bag right way, got in a porta pottie line, and just got in my corral. A lot of people crammed in this narrow area and were pushing and shoving, which was super annoying. I thought it was really interesting they let food vendors in this area. They roamed around the crowds of runners and had Turkish breads, bananas, water, tea and coffee. I’ve never seen anything like this.

I didn’t see any Americans in the corrals, or at least in the area I was in. But I did see a lot of excited and smelly Europeans. As we started the race, you could see the enormous bridge in front of us. It was quite an incredible site and as we ran over it so many people stopped to take pictures or selfies. It was probably the best part of the race.

IMG_0998Around mile 3 or so, I saw a man with an SF Giants hat. I asked if he was from the U.S. But he wasn’t. I think he was Italian but was very nice and wished me luck. I saw another lady wearing a tech shirt from a race in Pennsylvania so I asked if she was from the U.S. She was Polish, living in New Jersey, but in Turkey for work and just randomly decided to do the marathon. I think around Mile 8 I kinda just started running next to a guy that was running the same pace. We didn’t say anything to each other but just kept running together for like 5 miles. It was kind of nice to run with someone. Then he asked what my time goal was and I said I didn’t have one. He assumed I did because I was looking at my watch so he thought he’d keep me company. Turned out he was an Iraqi and British citizen and kind of lives all over. It was his first road race. He had done a couple marathons in the desert so this was different for him. He also said that his friend who was running just the 15k wanted to go out for drinks the night before and they ended up drinking too much, so he was having a hard time. Right after we had this conversation he said he was dropping back and I never saw him again. So much for my pacer.

A long portion of the race (about 20k of it) is just a straight out and back and was just boring and not that exciting. Barely any spectators and no music. It was kind of tough. But as I got closer to the finish, I just tried to hold on even though my legs were getting tired. The last mile was uphill. Lame! But as we entered the area of the finish line, the crowds were large and loud. That definitely helped me get through the end.

IMG_1008The finish area is in between the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque area in Sultanahmet Square. After passing the finish line, they gave us bags of food and drinks and I immediately drank the orange juice they had given us. It was delicious! We had to filter through the small area and get through the crowd of spectators on the other side of the fencing. I just kept walking straight for my gear bag because I just wanted to take my shoes off and sit down. After I relaxed for a bit and changed my shirt, I finally gathered myself and walked to the nearest metro station only to find it was closed because of the race. Crap! So I had to walk to the bus station, which wasn’t close. I tried to suck it up and continued on through all the tourists and runners in my way. I was getting cranky and needed food. Thank god there was a protein bar in the goodie bag that we got at the finish line. Once I reached the bus station I noticed locals sitting at the stations so I went to the 99 bus stop and sat down. I waited and waited and I was kind of wondering what was taking so long. I asked the guy next to me if they always take so long and I thought he said yes, so I just waited. Then after like 45 minutes, I was over it. They clearly weren’t coming. IMG_1013So, I started walking in the direction of where my neighborhood was and thought maybe I should catch a cab. I asked like 4 taxis and they all turned me down. I was so annoyed. But then I figured out that I think they turned me down because it wasn’t worth their time or money to take me because it wasn’t far. It wasn’t far to them but it was far to me. But what they didn’t know was I didn’t care and would have paid them more to take me because I didn’t want to walk anymore! I was hungry and tired. So, 2 hours after I finished the race, I finally made it to my neighborhood and walked straight into a restaurant with my running clothes on and got something to eat. The guy probably thought I was crazy coming in with all my gear, wearing running clothes, saying I was starving. Oh man! It was good though! By the way, I also got strange looks on the street because I was still wearing my running shorts and I don’t think they are used to females wearing shorts, especially something that short.

IMG_1029After my delicious meal, I walked to our flat and showered, relaxed and ended up falling asleep and taking a 4 hour nap! I’ve never done that after a race, but I think all the walking after the race got to me. Plus, the bed was super comfy and warm. When I woke up I knew I didn’t want to waste my last evening in Istanbul doing nothing in my room, so I rallied and took a cab to Taksim Square and had a beer and dinner. It was like 11pm at this point, but it was pretty lively in the square. After a bit of walking around, I went back to the flat and snuggled back up in bed.

The best part of this race was the Bosphorus Bridge and being able to say I ran from Asia to Europe. This is the only race that crosses two continents and I think that’s really cool! I think this race has about 15,000 and the cutoff time is 5.5 hours, so no dawdlers allowed here. One thing I noticed that was not good was they didn’t have electrolytes at any water stations. Nothing! They did have some gu’s, bananas and apples though. And they used the small water bottles instead of the larger ones, which was less waste. There were not as many spectators at this race though. Pretty slim. But overall, it was a great experience and the sites at the beginning and end were great!IMG_1017

Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge

Holy smokes! First, I didn’t know if I was going to get in. I was on a waitlist for several weeks. Second, after I got in, I wasn’t sure I should do it. Third, I did it!

Here are just some things I experienced during my second marathon in 6 days -

-High-fived Bart Yasso at the Start
-Saw a guy running in a cotton Misfits shirt (kinda awesome!)
-Cows grazing
-Lots of picture stops (beautiful scenery!)
-Orange slices were like heaven in my mouth
-Lot of great music
-Gorgeous views
-When will this hill end??
-Another hill?
-Beautiful sandy beaches
-Hello wind!
-The most amazing strawberries
-Are we there yet?
-I’m so glad I am done!
-Well, I did it! And I now know why they call that a “challenge”.

After the race, we got our medals and our awesome finisher jacket. We also got a special tent with free food and beer and our families could join us as well. That’s it folks! That wraps up 5 marathons in 6 months. It’s time to rest and recover for a bit!
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Boston Marathon 2015

How did it sneak up on me so quickly? April crept up on us and it was time to start packing for the Boston Marathon. It had been 494 days since I qualified and now it was time to fly to Boston!

The week leading up to the marathon I had a beerfest to organize and manage. I had to wrap up the event and take care of returning equipment and calculate number of participants and figure out expenses. I had to get a check sent out to our beneficiary. So, I was pretty busy in those days before leaving. But, I still managed to have relaxing runs and all I could think about was being on the Boston Marathon course. There’s just something about it that can bring me to tears.

As I boarded my flight from Phoenix to Boston, I saw fellow runners. Some wearing Boston marathon jackets or sweatshirts or other items that signified they were on their way to Boston to run this great race. I ended up talking to a gal in line who was heading back to Boston where she lives. She was so excited for me to run the race on Monday and said they, meaning the city of Boston, had already started putting up signs like “Boston Strong” and other meaningful items to get ready for this amazing weekend. Turns out the bombing happened right in front of her office. She said she has kept close tabs on the trial of the bomber and how emotional it’s been. I couldn’t helped but get choked up. She also told the boarding agent that I was running the marathon after I was asked to assist in the Exit row, which was pretty funny. She made it sound like I was a superhero and if anything happened I could help everyone with my magical superhero powers. As we boarded the plane she wished me luck.

Being in Boston is just so magical. It really is! I’ve said that before and I mean it. The energy of the people, the energy of what’s going on all weekend, and being around all those amazing athletes from all over the world is just so awesome.

We stopped in a small dog boutique near our hostel and ended up chatting with the owner for a while. She was really happy for me and thanked me for coming all the way from California. She said that a lot of people are afraid to come back. I told her I wasn’t afraid at all and was very happy to be there. We had a great conversation with her and it made our trip to Boston even more special. We love talking to the locals and hearing their stories.

Marathon Monday came very quickly…and the weather went from sunny and beautiful to rainy and cold. But, there’s not much you can do about the elements so we had to just suck it up and do the best we could. As I got on the bus with my friend Jen, I knew this was it. I was heading to the start of my second Boston Marathon. How did this happen? It was so surreal!

We waited in the Athlete’s Village for our turn to line up behind the start line. It was pretty cold but we huddled up under a large tent after using the port o’ johns (as they call them there). As 10:50am approached it literally started raining as the gun went off. And we were off! It was speedy and so cool! I didn’t wear my headphones this time so I could hear everything along the course. I heard screaming, chanting, a lot of “Go Jen!” and “Boston loves Jen!” because Jen wore a shirt that said “Jen Heavy black heart️ Boston”, I high-fived so many spectators, and just enjoyed as much of it as I could. Since I was wearing my Timex shirt several people said “Go Timex!” or “It takes a licking but keeps on ticking” and even an older runner ran by me and showed me his Timex watch that he’s had for 30 years.

So many spectators lined the sides of the street, even in the rain. Spectators had beers, water, licorice, oranges, and Swedish fish, which I took a few cuz I love those little candies. The spectators are what it’s all about. These amazing people from town to town have such a great time cheering all us runners on and getting us to the finish line. The Wellesley girls were “wicked” loud! We could hear them wayyyy before we ran by them. Jen even got a kiss from a British fellow (I think it was a guy). Those girls did not stop screaming! It was pretty insane!

I had a moment between miles 15-16 where I felt a bit of fatigue come on, but I was able to snap out of it. The “hills” came about mile 17 and I just busted through those! I literally chewed ‘em up and spit ‘em out! They actually gave me a ton of energy and adrenalin.

Soon, we saw the Citgo sign and I knew we were getting close. Then I saw the Prudential Tower and knew this was it! As I turned onto Hereford, I was pretty darn excited and popped in another Shot Blok and started sprinting. I looked for Jen and said “Let’s go!!” I saw Boylston ahead and started to tear up. It was then time to turn left down to the finish. I just couldn’t slow down. I looked around trying to find Clint and Katy but couldn’t spot them. I then just focused on the finish line and heard my name called and it was just such a special moment. The whole day was so extraordinary. I felt so lucky to be there again. I also felt so lucky to run with Jen who is just an inspiring and fast runner.

I do have to say, I had a moment while running down Boylston where I thought about the bombings. I looked left to the spot where the first bombing happened. I couldn’t help but not think of that moment in time two years ago. I finished this race for this wonderful city. And even though I wanted to thank everyone along the course for helping me, the volunteers all thanked ME for running! Every single volunteer was genuine and so sincere and they all appreciated what every runner did on Monday. We weren’t afraid to be there.

In 2008, I had no idea what the Boston Marathon was. I qualified a year later and went to my first Boston Marathon in 2011. I was so happy with that accomplishment and never thought about going back because I was satisfied and loved the experience. I qualified at the 2013 California International Marathon because Clint’s cancer battle gave me the motivation to get to Boston again. To be able to go back this year was just more than I could have ever dreamed of. Having Clint and Katy there, to run with Jen, and to know so many people from my training group and other runners from Sacramento made it so memorable. This was my 19th marathon at the 119th Boston Marathon.

I don’t know what the future holds and if I’ll go back, but I know without a doubt that this race was so incredibly special and I’ll never forget it. I came back to chase those unicorns and now have two hanging in my house. It’s just such a great feeling and almost indescribable.

Thank you to everyone for all your support and love!

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Tips for a “racecation”

For some of you folks that may be interested in traveling out of state (perhaps, to Boston) or country for a race, I thought I’d put together a list of tips that could be helpful in planning and packing for a racecation.

I’ve learned a lot in my travels, so maybe this will keep you from making some mistakes I’ve made along the way.th

1) Make a list of everything to bring: A list is super helpful and will keep you organized. I’m a huge list maker and this makes things a lot easier to check off as you are packing. Sometimes I start this list months in advance. I use the “Notes” section in my phone so I can add to it easily and it’s on me all the time when I remember something.

2) Accommodations near the finish or close to public transportation options like subway/metro: This is ideal because then you don’t have to go far after the race. After you’ve received your medal, water/drinks and goodies you want to locate your friends/family. Then you’ll be hungry. After all this time, who wants to travel super far for food or shower or your bed? I don’t.

3) Don’t worry about overpacking: With the inconsistent weather we have nowadays due to global warming (those experts say), it’s always good to bring all types of running gear with you. You never know when it’s going to be warm or when it’s going to be cold. It’s happened to me a couple times where it should have been cold and then it ended up warm and I wished I had worn a tank. Or I thought it would be a bit warmer, but it was drizzly and cold and I could have worn a long sleeve shirt to tear off mid-race. Just be prepared for anything.

4) Don’t forget your race gear: While this may seem obvious, I’ve heard of people forgetting their shoes (super important) or other items they need for raceday. Now, there usually is an expo with lots of vendors selling items that you could buy to replace that missing item, but after training in a pair of shoes that’s perfectly broken in and ready for race day, a new pair is not the most ideal. You really don’t want to run your race with any new apparel that could chafe or ride up on your body in a weird way.

5) Pack your race items in your carry on luggage: This is something I’m overly paranoid about. I never pack my race gear in my checked in luggage just in case it never makes it to my destination. I always carry it on me. Because if it does get lost, you don’t want to resort to having to buying all new gear (as mentioned in #4).

5) Bring snacks and food from home: Seriously, if you can bring snacks with you, you will be glad you did. When you travel to another country, you never know what they have at the corner store or grocery store. You may think they will have something similar to what you eat before a race, but you can’t guarantee that. Bring bagels, KIND bars, or whatever pre-race foods your body is used to. I bring a large zip lock bag full of treats just in case I’m hungry when I’m traveling, because we all know runners are hungry ALL the time. I will bring trail mix, almonds, KIND bars, protein bars, pretzels, and I always pack some packets of Emergen C.

7) Research your carb loading places before, if you can, or in the first day or two of your trip so you aren’t scrambling on the night before the race: Whether you like pasta or pizza or whatever it is you prefer the night before a race, do a little research on what restaurants will be in the area you are staying. You don’t want to travel too far from your accommodations, if you can help it, and you don’t necessarily want to go where everyone else is going. There will be long waits and who wants to wait to carb up? Not me! Doing the research ahead of time will definitely help.

9) Go to the Expo on the day it starts: If you can get to the Expo on the first day it starts, I suggest this for a couple reasons. One, you can get it over with early on in your trip and not have to stress about it right before race day. Two, if you go on the first day, there are generally less people to have to walk around. Three, if you are looking for merchandise to purchase from the vendors, there will be more sizes to choose from on the first day.

8) Stay off your feet, if you can, for most of the day (or at least half the day) on the day before the race: I know you’re on vacation too and want to sightsee, but you still need to stay disciplined. This will help with fatigue. You don’t want to tire out those legs the day before a race. This could make your legs feel tired on race day too. Keep those precious extremities rested and ready for a good race!

10) Safety pins: Bring some extras in your toiletry bag or somewhere in your belongings just in case you forget to pick up some at the Expo or THEY forget to give you some. You need to pin that badboy (your bib) to your shirt, so this is an important item to have handy. I’ve been to race expos where they didn’t have safety pins out and was scrambling later looking for extras.

11) Game plan for meeting friends or family at finish: With a race of 20,000-40,000 there is going to be chaos at the end of the race. If you can come up with a plan on where to meet (a coffee shop, a bar, a “family meeting area”) then you will be better off and feel less stressed at the end of the race. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming trying to get through all the masses when you just want to find a familiar person and you are hungry. Make it easy on yourself and your loved ones after the race. I’ve been in situations with no cell reception or I couldn’t find the person(s) I was looking for and it can make for a depressing couple hours.

12) HAVE FUN!!: Uh, duh!

Tokyo Marathon 2015

I’m not even sure where to begin. What a trip! Literally. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to Japan. I knew there would be a language barrier, but we quickly also found out the subway/metro system is quite complicated. We did get used to it after a couple days though, thank goodness!

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Tokyo Marathon Expo

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Nicole and me at the Expo with a tower of Asahi beers behind us

As soon as I arrived to the apartment very late on Wednesday evening (Feb 18), I went to bed. It had been a long travel day of many hours. Thursday morning we woke up early, headed to a traditional breakfast place for noodles (you order your meal from a vending machine, receive a small ticket, then hand that to the chef), and then headed to the Tokyo Marathon Expo. I wanted to get this over with on the first day the expo was open. The expo was really easy and organized, as far as picking up your bib, shirt, chip and info. Once you exit that area, it became a very loud convention hall full of craziness! It was like going to a live auction with people yelling out things, handing out things, just pure chaos. It was almost too much for me. But I came upon an area where they were embroidering your name (or whatever you wanted in a limited amount of characters) on the sleeve of your participant shirt. It was only 500 yen, which was a little less than $5 USD, for my name in Japanese characters, so I said why not! After an hour of perusing the rest of the vendors and waiting for my shirt to be done, we finally left.

After a couple of full days of sightseeing, I tried to rest my legs on Saturday afternoon and not go too far away from where we were staying and get ready for the race. We found some pizza places nearby, so I was all set to get my carb load the night photo 2(1)before. That evening we decided that we wanted to get the pizza delivered so we didn’t have to go anywhere. Brilliant! Then all of a sudden it occurred to us that we would not be able to order the pizza over the phone because we didn’t speak a lick of Japanese. Ha! So, my friend Shin was trying to get a hold of us to meet up, so we just asked him to come over to order the pizza for us. He called a Dominos and we were all set! And, I might add, it was quite delicious. After my pizza, I drank some fluids, laid out all my race gear, and went to bed early. It wasn’t too hard to go to bed earlier because our days were jam packed of getting up early and 13 hours of sightseeing, so it made it easier to put on the pjs and get in bed.

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Twist ties to hold the timing chip in place – will this stay on my shoe??

I woke up early, as usual, and decided to just get up and put my clothes on, put my timing chip on my shoe with twist ties (I was a little nervous these wouldn’t hold), and got ready. The race didn’t start until 9:10am so I was happy to “sleep in” a little and get up around 6:30. I had coordinated with my friend Nicole (who was on this Japanese adventure with me) on where to meet at the end of the race at the #7 balloon in the family meeting area, but I also got her squared away with meeting up with Shin in the morning to go to spots along the course so she could see me run by. So, I had a piece of cold pizza, grabbed my “banana in a bag”, and all my stuff in my gear check bag and headed out the door around 7:20 to get to the JR (Japanese Rail) that took about 30 minutes to get to the starting area in Shinjuku.

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“banana in a bag”

As I entered the Tamachi station near our apartment, I didn’t see any other runners, but as my train continued, several runners got on at each stop along the way. I started to notice all the runners were wearing leggings or running tights. I was wearing shorts. I started to think maybe I should have packed tights. But I never run in tights…I’ll be fine! As we exited at Shinjuku, runners had packed the trains and I knew I was in the right place. We just followed one another and made our way out of the station. Officers/volunteers were holding signs telling us which way to go, which was super helpful even though you couldn’t really get lost by following all the runners. I finally had to turn right because I was in Corral D and it was in a different direction than most letters. As I turned onto that street, I noticed we had to walk down into an area that was filled with so many people in lines. As I approached, I saw that we all had to go through security lines with metal detectors and they searched our gear bags. I had forgotten they were on “high alert” with their security, but it didn’t take too long. That was a first though! After I got through this line, it got a little confusing. Luckily, I saw a volunteer that had a sign on his shirt that said “I speak English”. Thank goodness! So, I asked him where to go and it made better sense. I arrived early and with 35,000 runners I was glad I did. There were announcements being made that told us what time we had to have our gear in the trucks and what time we had to be in our corrals. It was a little stressful. I also knew I needed to get in a porta potty line at some point, so I threw my bag to the gear truck and found my way up the stairs to my corral area. Along the way, I found another section of porta potties and the lines were MUCH shorter, so I grabbed a spot. While waiting, I tried to open my “banana in a bag” and was having trouble so I asked the guy next to me to help. Even two of us had a hard time. I don’t know why they package single bananas in plastic. I ate my banana and my Kind bar and walked to the corral.

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The start area of the race (Corral D)

I got in the corral at about 8:30 and it was quite chilly. Many runners were wearing ponchos or extra layers to stay warm, but I decided to not deal with all of it and just got in with just my short sleeve shirt, arm warmers and shorts. While standing in the 40+ degree drizzly conditions, a guy from Detroit, a gal from Florida (@krissycakes13), and a German who lives in San Jose all surrounded me. What a weird coincidence that all of these people from the US are standing right next to me?! We all chatted while shivering and doing little “I’m cold” dances in place. The next 40 minutes actually went by fairly quickly. I was a little bummed to hear from the guy from Detroit that he doesn’t get the race jitters or butterflies anymore. After telling him this was my 18th marathon, he said that after 18 was when he didn’t feel those jitters anymore. So I asked why he still runs them and he pretty much said he’s just addicted now. It was a little disappointing to me and I hope I don’t ever feel that way about running these races. It may drive Clint (the boyfriend) crazy that I get all stressed and nervous about running another marathon, but that’s one of the things I love about it. It’s part of the process and what keeps me going and wanting to run more.

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Confetti! (photo courtesy of the official press)

After some music and announcements, there was an explosion of confetti that flew over the top of us to start the race! It was so exciting! I’ve never been at the start of a marathon that had confetti flying everywhere! And we were off! It took a few minutes to get to the start line, but as I did I noticed the confetti was in little white heart shapes and it made me smile. As I continued to run, I was just in awe. I really couldn’t believe I was running through the streets of Tokyo, with all the enormous buildings with colorful signs on them. I just couldn’t get over it! I started crying about a mile in because it was just so exciting to me. I felt like this solo American running in a sea of Japanese runners. When you run a race in the US, you see so much diversity in the crowds. Hair colors, skin colors, body types, tattoos, etc. But in Japan, everyone looks the same – dark hair and short (not to be stereotypical). It’s really bizarre. There were, however, many runners wearing costumes and funny hats.

I ran without ever putting my headphones in. I wore it just in case, but I just had a great time listening to everything. I couldn’t understand what the spectators were cheering, but it didn’t really matter. It was pretty awesome to hear. I felt good, I was running well, and I just kept up my pace even though my watch was bouncing all over with what my actual pace was.

Aid stations were frequent and well organized. Porta potty areas were extremely organized with signs telling you where to turn off the course with arrows and men/women signs. It was so cool to see how different this was as compared to other races internationally (definitely much different from Paris). Periodically, aid stations would have tomatoes and I loved them! They were delicious! The sport drink was called Pocari Sweat and although it’s a funny name, it was pretty tasty.

photo 2(3)I spotted Nicole and Shin around the 7 mile mark and stopped for a quick photo. That was awesome! The course has a few long stretches that turn around and you run on the other side of the street. At times, you could see some of the elites or at least some of the really fast runners on the other side of the street. I saw American Lauren Kleppin (Asics Mammoth Track Club Athlete) out there running in pink. As I kept running and was nearing the end of the race, I noticed the kilometers and miles weren’t matching up on my watch. I was so confused. I basically started to think I could PR and BQ because I was approaching the 26.2 with a really great time. But it just didn’t seem right. How could this be? Well, this all started to screw with my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then, as I hit 26.2 on my watch, I had a time of 3:34! So awesome…except this wasn’t really accurate as I kept running another 2+ miles. With 1k left to run, I spotted Nicole and Shin again! I was so happy that I just ran this entire race and felt great! I turned left going into the Tokyo Big Sight building and saw the finish was near. I crossed the finish line with an official time of 3:51. I was pretty darn happy with that with so many runners on the course. At about the 36k mark, we had to go up and over a bridge and the road narrowed and we were all crammed in, so it was tough to go super fast in this area. The crowd of runners never really thinned out, but I did have enough space around me.

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#selfie

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gear check area…

After we crossed the finish line, we received our medal and a finisher towel, which was quite nice and large. We were then directed through the area to get our water and food and then to the halls that had our gear check bags. This was amazing to see! They had all our bags in numerical order (remember, there were 35,000 people running this race) in different sections and they were so quick to find our bags for us. Not only that, all the other volunteers hanging out in the areas were cheering us on and saying congratulations! After this area, we were directed to the “dressing areas” which were open areas for the men to change in the convention hall and they had more private areas for the women. I just threw on my pants and a shirt and was good to go. I got in line for my official finisher photo complete with a wreath headband, got in line for a large tomato to eat over tarp they laid out, and then headed out to the family meeting area.

Official numbers for the race were 35,797 total entrants (Male: 27,966/Female: 7,831) and 30,509 from Japan and 5,288 traveling from abroad. After seeing the total female count made it more clear why I barely saw any lady runners out there. That was so strange.

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Tokyo Tower

Once I found Nicole and Shin in the family meeting area, we headed out into the chaos and crowds of family members trying to get in to see their runners. I just wanted to eat something at this point because it had been over an hour and I just needed something more than SunRype fruit bars and a Pure Protein bar I had on me. So we wandered looking for something. I was kind of hoping for a warm beverage, like hot cocoa, but lines into places just seemed ridiculous, so we ended up making our way (a long way) to a metro station and headed back to our apartment. I got showered and changed and had some leftover pizza. We then made our way to the Tokyo Tower so I could see it at night. We then ended up having a late dinner there and I had some kind of rice bowl with pork.

photo 2(5)For anyone who wants to run an international race, this by far was one of the best races I’ve run. I would encourage you to try to get into this race. I don’t know how I got in this year, but I feel so lucky I did. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so happy I was able to make it happen and go. Those Japanese know how to organize races! It was done so well and they are just amazing!

Oh, and this was my 4th World Marathon Major with London and NY left to run. It was definitely very exciting to check this race off my list! Sayonara for now!

Leavin’ on a jet plane

Well, the time has come once again to get packed and ready to leave the USA and head to another country. Sometimes, I can’t even believe how fast time flies. It’s been 4.5 months since I found out I got into the Tokyo Marathon and a lot has happened in these past months.

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Official Tokyo Marathon packet

It’s taken me until about NOW to get excited about this trip because I have had some other things preoccupying my mind. It makes it hard to look forward to a vacation racecation. But, now that I am leaving in 5 days from now, I am getting a little anxious and have a lot to take care of before I leave. Mostly I have to make sure I am prepared with everything I need to bring (running gear – especially the shoes!) and I’m leaving Clint behind to take care of the last bit of paperwork and chaos going on with our house in escrow (!!!). This wasn’t the original plan. He wasn’t able to go because of work, but I guess it’s worked out that he couldn’t go to Tokyo so he can handle house stuff while I am away, although I am bummed he won’t be on this journey with me. So, I’m not only packing my luggage but packing our house at the same time. Ha!

10407854_10153632341708484_4778113372603688523_nA couple weeks ago, Clint and I were lucky to have Kaori visiting and got to show her around Sacramento. Kaori is our friend Shin’s daughter and both are from Japan. We met Shin at the Trinidad and Tobago Int’l Marathon last year and were totally happy to accommodate her on her first trip the U.S. Shin sent Kaori with a care package for me filled with Tokyo maps and items that may be helpful on my first trip to Japan. I was very excited! Shin has been amazing in helping plan out our trip in Tokyo via email, so I know we will have a great time seeing the sites along with getting me ready for the marathon.

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Kaori was a trooper and got up at 6am with me to run part of my 13 mile run

I’ve been simultaneously training for the Tokyo Marathon (Feb) and the Boston Marathon (Apr) so it’s been interesting. I am mostly following the Boston 365 plan and joining the training group for workouts, but I have had to adjust recently to taper slightly for Tokyo and also got a bad cold last Friday that lasted about 5 days. I feel much better now, but I missed out on a long 16 mile run (I got in 8), which I really needed or I felt I needed.

10432999_10153631941683484_4384499054668087628_nAt this point, my body does feel great. It does feel strong and I feel like the extra speedwork and training workouts will be beneficial. I’m not trying to go super fast or PR in Tokyo, I really just want to have a good race and have fun. Boston is a little more important to me as far as getting to the start line healthy and strong and fast. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do well in Tokyo, but I am not going to beat myself up over my time or whatever happens.

 

I’m going to TOKYO! It’s going to be an amazing experience!

Don’t fret – I’ll post a race recap when I return!th

2014 Dublin Marathon

photo(39)“It’s ok to not feel ok” – I saw this on the back of a gals shirt during the race and I wanted to tell her YES! It kind of became my mantra during the race. And I guess it’s a mantra for life.

photo(40)I was prepared for cold, rainy weather. I packed arm warmers, gloves and expected a chilly start. Well, it was far from that. As I got ready in the morning, I checked the weather and it was already 60 degrees and cloudy so I knew this was going to be a warm one. The race also started at 9am so it’s a little later than I’m used to. I walked to the start area from the hotel and wasn’t cold at all. I actually wished I had worn a tank.

I ate my banana, Pure Protein bar (it was easy to pack in my luggage for race day food), and Chia Surge Energy Gel on the way to the start area. I immediately got in a crazy long line for the porta potties when I arrived. I also barely got out of the restroom before the gun went off. There were 14,600 people so it was a bit crazy.

As we started, my watch hadn’t picked up the GPS signal yet so I ran anyway hoping it would pick it up quickly thereafter. After about 1/3rd of a mile, it finally came on but I decided at that point I wasn’t going to worry about my time. I just wanted to enjoy it as best I could and just run. I also never turned on my music, which I believe is a first for me! I thought it would be better to just listen to the sounds around me.

The crowds were pretty amazing. There’s a reason they call it “the friendliest marathon in the world”. So loud and boisterous and cheering every single person on. The whole way I’d hear “well done lads!” or “brilliant!” as we ran by. They were passing out jellies (these would be Haribo gummies) and candies and making so much noise with clappers. Even runners were motivating other runners when they were walking.

photo(1)My pace was much slower than normal but I tried not to focus on it and remind myself I was doing this race to experience running in Ireland. Time isn’t everything. Sometimes just the experience of it all is worth more than just a silly PR or “great time”. I found the course difficult which seemed odd since it was posted as being a flat course. There were some hills and there was wind as well. But the heat was making it really difficult for a lot of people. I saw a lot of folks pulling over to the side with cramps, tight muscles, and looking dehydrated. Several ambulances had to come through the course to get to runners. I even had to call for a medic for a runner that pulled off and was yelling in agony holding his hamstring.

I walked during parts and just said “it’s ok!” I noticed a lot of runners wearing orange bibs, like myself, were slower, walking and pulling over to the sides. An orange bib was the first corral of runners with an estimated 3:40-3:50 finish time. So generally these runners have a fairly fast pace. But not today. Many were behind, like I was.

As I passed the 3 or 4 announcing stations along the course, they called out my name and said I came all the way from the USA or the States or United States. That was kind of fun because there were not that many of us from the US running this race. Spectators would call out my name because it was on my bib, but others called out “Timex” because that was on the front of my shirt. I thought it was funny. I wasn’t sure if they thought that was my name (or last name) or knew it was a company.

I sprinted the last 1.5 miles. I was so ready to be finished and happy I was almost done. I rounded the last corner and I could hear on the speakers U2′s “Where The Streets Have No Name” which was too perfect of an ending. I kind of teared up.

My official time was 4:27. Not my best, not my worst. But I just let it be what it was. There’s always another race but there may never be another marathon in Dublin like this for me.

After a long walk from the finish line, I was having trouble finding Clint in the meeting area and my legs were tired so I kept sitting down. After about 20 minutes I got up, feeling really lonely, and looked to my left and I finally spotted him.

The one thing that’s always tough about running international races is I’m almost always running them by myself. There’s no one to start with or talk to during the race, nothing familiar. So I have to just soak in everything else around me and enjoy it as best as possible. I love hearing other accents and hearing people talking to each other. I just watch and observe things around me.

I found out after the race from other runners that the course was changed this year due to construction and this route change made it tougher for a lot of runners. Many runners ran slower times because of this, the warm weather, and the wind. We even heard on the local radio that the elites had a tough time too.

photo(38)We walked around for a bit after the race looking for a pub to enjoy a beer and food. It was a bit of chaos in the immediate area around the finish, so we walked a little further and came upon a pub down an alley in the Temple Bar area. We had beers, fish and chips and lasagna. Delicious!

I am finding that the journeys I go on to run marathons in different countries are somewhat of a parallel to life. We find joy and passion in things and sometimes it takes the struggles and suffering to get to the good parts of life. I find that running marathons is exactly this. Sometimes they just suck royally to get to the finish line and sometimes they are just amazing and beautiful. Either way, it’s all part of life and what we do to be stronger and appreciate things more. I still feel really lucky that I have the means and get to run all over the world.

I read this the other day: “In a lot of ways, people think I’m kind of crazy. There’s a little bit of crazy in us all, though. If you’re going to line up for a marathon and call that your sport, you’re definitely a little messed up, but I get a weird satisfaction out of it.” – Lauren Klepplin (American long-distance runner)

Is this an addiction?

Last night, we had some friends over and the topic of addiction came up. There are many different types and forms of addiction. The question came up as to whether my running was an addiction. Now, I have been running a long time. Since elementary school, as a matter of fact. Obviously when I was younger, this running was definitely not an addiction. It was a sport that I was interested in and I enjoyed the competition aspect of it. But now that I am running marathons, and multiple marathons a year, does this mean I am addicted? As in REALLY addicted?

Some may firmly say yes. Some may joke and say yes. And others may say no. Can exercise become addictive to some people? Sure! Do I like to exercise every day (or almost every day)? Well, yes! I love it! It makes my mind feel good, it makes my body feel good and overall, I just feel GOOD! Notice, I didn’t use the word need. I don’t actually NEED exercise, but I really like and want it.

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 8.13.07 AMSo, now I bet you are saying this is really an addiction. “An exercise addiction can have harmful consequences although it is not listed as a disorder…This type of addiction can be classified under a behavioral addiction in which a person’s behavior becomes obsessive, compulsive, and/or causes dysfunction in a person’s life.”

Are running marathons becoming an obsessive thing for me? Are they starting to cause a dysfunction in my life? I don’t believe so. So I asked my boyfriend. He said, “It’s a good thing, because it keeps you sane and level.” He says that I drive myself crazy with other things in my life, so this is good for me. (At first, he did try to say it is an addiction, but he was joking.)

Honestly, I love the direction of where my life has gone and is going and marathons are just part of it. Without this challenge, structure of training, goals, and events to look forward to, what would I be doing in my life? I really don’t know. For now, I am happy and content with what this “addiction” has brought me. I really feel it’s healthy and it really allows me opportunities to travel more. Would I have gone to Germany if it hadn’t been for the Berlin Marathon? Would I have gone to Trinidad & Tobago if it hadn’t been for their T&T International Marathon? Probably not. I also have the Dublin Marathon coming in a couple months. I’m sure at some point I would have gone to Ireland, but having a reason such as running a marathon in this country only makes this adventure happen sooner. I also have many other marathons in different countries on my bucket list. It’s all purely to see the world and a great way to do it.

I still find running a great sport and love the competition of it.

So, if it is an addiction, I’m sure my family and friends will have an intervention down the road. But I think I can say with confidence that’s it’s not hurting me or anyone else, so we’re all good…for now. (I joke!)