Friday, February 24, 2012

Marathon Women

If it isn’t obvious from my blog posts, as well as from my facebook updates and tweets, running has kind of taken over my life (or, at least my social media life, because I can’t/won’t talk about work in these fora). Turns out running sometimes takes over my entertainment choices, too, and in between listening to podcasts about running, watching movies and documentaries about running, stalking running blogs, and planning to watch races on tv, I also read about running.

My latest running book was Kathrine Switzer’s Marathon Woman. Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry (and the second woman ever), after she registered with her initials, in 1967. Switzer was attacked by one of the race directors when they figured out she was a woman, while she was running the marathon. Although I find that it can be very difficult for the authors of autobiographies to strike the right tone in recounting their own lives, but Switzer’s book definitely left me thinking a lot about women and running.


Over the years, I’m sure I’ve heard many of the arguments that were used to oppose women’s running, particularly distance running. Women are too weak to run. Running will make a woman’s uterus fall out. It will cause miscarriage. They’re laughable now, but what Switzer’s book made me realize is that they weren’t myths, but accepted as fact in this country, less than 35 years ago (and probably more recently than that, actually). That’s…recent history.

I suppose its somewhat of a coincidence that I was reading Marathon Woman in the middle of the latest “conversation” about the role of government, birth control, religion, and women’s health. (Then again, when are we NOT having this particular conversation?) As a woman whose law school health insurance did not cover birth control for the purposes of birth control for religious reasons (although I suspect it’s mostly not offered as a cost-saving measure, frankly, but I’m just cynical like that), I support the new regulations. But, the real point is that a lot of the rhetoric about women’s health feels like an attack. I feel like no one ever asks me or other women about our priorities or our opinions on the policies that affect our bodies. It makes me angry.

But running makes me feel defiant. It makes me feel like we have made progress, even in my lifetime (which I realize is increasingly not as short a measure of time as I like to think). Women have only been allowed to run the Boston Marathon since 1972. I’m a year older than the women’s Olympic marathon. But, my generation of women has never been told that we can’t participate in sports – we are the women of Title IX. If we weren’t active, it’s because we didn’t want to be or because we weren’t encouraged to be (which is a whole separate, ongoing, and important problem). It isn’t because someone told us that there was something defective about our physical and physiological make-up that prevented us from being athletes. When I go for a run, I feel like I’m flipping a finger at all the men, and they’re mostly men, who want to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body and imply that I’m not responsible or mature enough to make those decisions for myself.

Switzer’s book made me think about my mom. She was born in 1940 and was 26 when Switzer first ran Boston. She wasn’t physically active, but she wanted me to be and really encouraged my figure skating (which I did from 3rd-12th grade). I’m pretty sure that she would be amazed by and proud of my running, but I really wish I could sit down and talk to her about the changes that she saw in the lives of and opportunities available to women in her lifetime. At the age that I took up running, it wasn’t really even an option that was available to her, even though I think of her as a pioneer in so many ways. I think of her as part of the first major wave of professional women, a group which includes most of my friend’s mothers, as well, and her journey has definitely always inspired me. But, I also wonder what she would have done with the opportunities that are available to me, that were not options for her, including running. Would my mom have been a runner, if her childhood had taken place post-Title IX?

Please don’t think that in celebrating progress that I’m throwing in the towel on equality: I recognize that many of the strides (ha – running pun) made by white, middle/upper-class, professional women, like me and like Switzer, are not shared by millions of other women in this country or around the world. Compared to so many other women, I’m firmly in the 1%. And, I know having access to a gym, gear, money to pay for race entries, and (most importantly) safe places to run makes me extraordinarily privileged. But I will celebrate the fact that in 2011, 41% of marathon finishers were women (1980 – 10%) and 59% of the half-marathon finishers (up 10% over 2005)* and send a silent thank you to the women pioneers, like Switzer, who blazed that trail for us every time I go for a run.

*source: running usa’s 2011 Marathon, Half-Marathon, and State of the Sport Reports (

Monday, February 20, 2012

Birch Bay Half Marathon

Short story: Awesome race. Fast, uncrowded course with one monster hill and beautiful views. Nice medal and a shiny PR that tells me I'm RIGHT on track with my marathon training!

Note: my official result is 2:16:00, because I started near the back of the pack after it took us longer to get across the US border than expected. Facebook friends have given me the consensus that I can claim my Garmin's time.

My friend Dana picked me up in downtown Seattle at mid-day on Saturday so we could drive up to Birch Bay, Washington (just a few minutes south of the US-Canada border, RIGHT on the coast) for the Birch Bay Half Marathon. She's training for Boston and my schedule for London had me doing a mid-training half marathon to gauge how things are going. Birch Bay was basically the only non-trail race within driving distance that fell at the right time of the year, but I was also excited because I've found that I really like smaller races with beautiful scenery (see also: Columbia Gorge). We got there just as the "expo" was starting - better described as packet pick-up where we got our t-shirts, bibs, and a sheet of information with a map of the marathon course (I'd argue that a map of the half marathon course would actually have been more useful for those of use running the half marathon - 2/3rds of the entrants).

A work colleague of mine had told me that the US side of the border was a bit...bleak...compared to the joys that awaited in the small town of White Rock, Canada, just on the other side, so I found a B&B that had room in White Rock. It turned out to be a wonderful choice! We stayed at the White Rose B&B, which was pretty much a small apartment in the basement of someone's home. There was a king bed in the main room and a small room with two twins - which I took, in case I needed to snuffle through the night (I've just barely gotten over a bad cold). The attention to detail was amazing, our hosts were so generous to make sure we had bagels and fruit for our pre-marathon breakfast, and the whole place was impeccably clean. I think I'm going to book it again for the Birch Bay 30K in March! White Rock itself was also adorable and, similarly, I'm excited to do more exploring. Good tip, work colleague! The only downside was that I couldn't quite persuade Dana how important it was to forsake Starbucks for Tim Horton's and TIMBITS for our post-race hot beverages.

White Rock

My race plan was pretty straightforward: my goal pace was 10:17, which is the pace I'd need for a dream 4:30 marathon (long ago decided that I'd train the paces for a 4:30 marathon, but really aim for a 4:45, because I'd rather enjoy the experience). I planned to go out and do the first two miles in ~10:30 pace, then pick it up to 10:17 for miles 3-11, then try to pick it up for the last two miles. Was I successful? Only somewhat: I NAILED my average pace, but wasn't super awesome about consistency and fell off the pace a bit at the end.

But, I'm very pleased. The 2:15 mark was one that I really, really, really, really wanted to hit. It's another two and a half minutes off my half marathon PB, as well, which is very nice. It's validation of a sort: I wanted to get 2:15 a year ago at the Princess Half, but really fell apart in the last half, and especially the last quarter, of the race. It feels awesome to know that in the year since my first half marathon, I've run two more and run each one stronger. I also felt good about how I pushed up that hill - it was my slowest mile, but it was a beast and I never stopped to walk. Overall, I do think I could have gone a bit faster, but the important thing for me to remember was and is that this race was a training run - it wasn't the "A" goal. That's London. I needed to run smartly, because I have to go back to training today, and I think I did that.

But, oh the course! It was stunning! It was run right along Birch Bay (starting and ending at the State Park) and Drayton Harbor. My Indiana heart still thinks that running near water is the ultimate luxury of life. The roads were quiet and, even though it was overcast, there was no rain (w00t!). The aid stops were a little far between and I especially didn't like that the 10 mile stop was around the corner (I presume that this was on the marathon's route) and so there wasn't actually any water for the half marathoners. I took a Gu in anticipation and ended up having to run the last 5k with Gu mouth and worrying that I might barf because I didn't have any water to wash it down. I think for the 30k, I'll take my Camelbak. I also loved that this race seemed to have JUST the right number of runners. I never felt alone, but we were all pretty well strung out. Also, the medal is nice and my skirt did its job well (I think is almost certainly an official clothing choice for the marathon).

Afterwards, we drove BACK to Canada, had showers (the B&B folks were really sweet and let us come back late to shower), found a fabulous organic cafe (the Sunflower Cafe) for lunch - half a tuna sandwich and curry chicken soup for me - OMNOMNOMNOM, then started the drive back to Seattle. We stopped at the Lululemon outlet mall along the way and got Dana back just in time for the next ferry to Bremerton.

What a perfect weekend for a great race! I can't wait for my next trip up to run in Birch Bay! If I weren't already registered for the 30K race, I definitely would have been doing that today!

BTW: look how pretty the post boxes are in Canada!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Getting Ready for the Half

Apparently I stink at updating my blog; many apologies. Since my last post, I have mostly been going on longer and longer runs. It's taken a lot out of me & I've been dealing with a bad cold all week. I'm hoping that this week, which was a lot lighter in the running department will help boost my immune system. I actually missed a run yesterday, but after I went home a couple of hours early from work, it seemed more sensible to stay in bed, rather than venture out into the cold & run.

Thankfully, however, the cold has stayed in my head and I can run through it with no issues, because tomorrow is my first (of two...or maybe three) pre-marathon races. It's my third half marathon, at Birch Bay, which is a few miles from the Canadian Border, right on the water. I'm very excited, but, as ever, nervous. I can't settle on a pacing plan in my head, which makes me nervous. Should I push and try to do 13.1 miles at (dream, fantasyland) marathon pace (10:16)? Should I go out slower than goal pace (~10:30), then pick it up after a few miles to marathon pace? Should I try to be a bit more conservative and treat this like a long run (closer to 11:00 pace)? I can obviously do much longer distances at the slow pace and I've done 8 miles at 9:33 pace, but the idea of 13.1 miles at 10:16 pace still makes me nervous. I should really try and be more confident in my ability to rock this! I'd love some words of wisdom!

What I can't quite get over is that it's been a year, this weekend, since my first half marathon and I can't believe how far I've come! Plus, it's making me EVER MORE excited for next year's Disney Princess Half Marathon.

Wish me luck! Apparently, Sunday marks 9 weeks to go to the marathon. As Marathon Talk said this week: single digits to go means its squeaky bum time! It ALSO means I need to step up my fundraising. As ever, I'd appreciate any and all donations to Cancer Research - just click the Just Giving box in the top right sidebar.

I've got a ramble on feminism & running to come, but I'll save that for a posting that's more thoughtful and less "nervous thought dump" than this one.

Friday, February 03, 2012

9:29 pace

I know exactly what makes me a slow runner - it's the belief that I'm a slow runner. I find the idea of pushing myself to go faster than is comfortable so much more difficult than the idea of plodding on for more and more miles. You know - slow & steady, etc. I just never thought I could be faster, so I wasn't.

That seems to be changing. Part of my marathon training involves tempo runs, which are supposed to be between 9:47 and 10:04 pace (my easy runs are supposed to be paced between 10:47 and 11:16). I say "supposed to be," because I had the most AMAZING run on Wednesday where I ran at 9:29 pace for SEVEN MILES! SEVEN MILES!

It was awesome. I looked at my watch after the first mile and thought to myself: "OMG, I can't hold this! There's no way I can hold this." And then I had to push those thoughts aside and thought: "I wonder if I could hold this - why don't I try and see!" So, you know what, I could hold the pace and I did! Not saying that I didn't have a few thoughts about whether I'd made sensible lunch choices along the way, but I did it. I ran fast.

The best part was that I went through 10K (6.2 miles) in 58:46! I can't even express how huge that is to me - for YEARS, the one hour 10K has been my nemesis. My current "official" PB is 1:00:42 and, yes, I hate it. I finally broke through smashed through the 30 minute 5K last spring and I've been gunning for the 10K ever since - other than the part where I haven't run a 10K race since December 2010. Oops. BUT STILL - my TRAINING run was two minutes faster than my PB. I can't even....

I think the pace run really exemplified some of the best things about marathon training:

  1. Consistent training really pays off.
  2. I can be faster than I think I can be, if I just push myself to do it.
  3. The hardest workouts are the ones that are the most rewarding.

And with that, I'm going to bed: I have a Six Nations rugby game (Come on England; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; etc.) to watch in the morning & a 16 mile run to do! Oh, and possible exciting race plans involving a very special 10 Miler in the fall to make (watch out 10M: I've got a goal for you, too, my pretty!).