The Elusive Sub 2

This was the year I decided to go for a sub-2 hour half marathon.  Sooner or later, runners, as they become more serious about the sport, start to set goals for themselves - big and small, and finally I felt ready to tackle this challenge.  I figured after running for about 3 years, I had built up a good base and experience, and wanted to see if I could clock in some lower times - both in races and in paces (aka tempo runs).

In 2014, I chose the Long Beach Half Marathon as my first race to train for. No fear, no uncertainty, just a total commitment. Coming from someone who owned more heels, fashion boots, and dress sandals than running shoes, it seemed quite the irony. But that one special day, I arrived early for a group exercise class at the gym, and saw the empty indoor track. Although I'd seen it thousands of times before, that particular day it had a stark, yet beckoning look. Why not warm up my legs, I thought, and jogged a few laps.

Unlike before, this time I was running - ok, jogging - without a clock. Without a time. Without people (passing me, or me passing them, though the latter much more rare). No distractions. No destination. With that, I felt a certain freedom, and was able to run how I FELT.

And it felt FAN-TAS-TIC.

So much so it left me intrigued for more. Running never felt this way before! I wasn't sweating. (Yet.) I didn't have a charlie horse. (Awesome.) I felt I could do more. (Um...what?!)

I think I managed to squeeze in 3 laps or so, before class started. On the track, 11 laps make a mile, so I probably ran a quarter of a mile. I thought, next time let's see if I can do 4 laps.

And that essentially was the progression of my training. I signed up in May, with the race being in October. I gave myself a 12-week training program, which started on July 1. I printed out a chart with each week laid out with the dedicated training for that day. Some days were rest days - those were the easiest. Other days consisted of strength training, tempo runs, and the most important one - the LONG run.

Long runs turned out to be my favourite, because you just got out and ran at a slower pace but for a longer time. Time actually goes fast, once you get into the groove of it. Your breathing isn't hard, and as more time elapses it's a snowball effect - how much longer can I go at this? (Perhaps it's the mentally for ultra races in me). Speed was my least favourite - no matter how hard I pushed, or really kicked it with form - I was still the slow lane car on the freeway.

But back to race day, 2014. I was half excited, half nervous. To compare the feels of race day to other monumental moments in my life - it would be entering the classroom to teach high schoolers for the first time, and also stepping out onto the stage for a piano performance in front of 10,000 people. All three gave me the jitters, and all three moved me to tears - in a beautiful, good way.

On race morning, we parked in the dark, and made our way to the start line corrals next to the Marina. Being surrounded by so many other people - other RUNNERS - not to mention the question of going the distance, was all very new to me. The place was buzzing with excitement. There was music and an MC, along with the beautiful sunrise that opened us up to a 7:30 am start.

I had put the training in - tons of treadmill runs, the weekly long runs outdoors, and committed to my fitness classes, and was feeling confident. A few weeks prior, I did my longest run at what I felt was 11-12 miles. Back then, I didn't have a fancy running watch that told you your distance, pace, etc. All I used was my old $20 waterproof stop watch that gave me a total running time. Glad the battery didn't conk on me.

So, as I toed the start line, I had one goal in mind: to finish the race, and to run it non-stop as an added-bonus. When you register for the race, they ask you to estimate your finishing time. I put 2:30:00. I figured it would give me a good buffer pace, and 10-11 minute miles seemed very reasonable, since that equated to the efforts I was putting on in the treadmill.

I finished with an official time of 2:00:46.

I was elated. I ran non-stop. I was a tad nauseous. I wanted to hug my mom. I wasn't as tired as I expected. I wanted to celebrate.

Those are a sample of the flood of feelings one can have after crossing the finish line of an endurance race.

2:00:46.

You know what I thought next?

Darn those 46 seconds.

Imma have to come back next year and try to break those two hours.

So Long Beach Half 2015 was in the books again. However, complacency settled in that year. I was distracted by many other things. I attempted training, and managed to put in a long run of 7 miles.

So guess what happened. During the race, right at mile 7 - I hit the wall. Go figure. The legs felt like lead, and I battled a lot mentally. I recall thinking at one point, this is one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. I kicked my mantra in, and it helped somewhat. I finished in 2:07:40.

I ran again in 2016, this time coming off an knee injury from completing my first ultra marathon earlier in May. It was probably the most enjoyable of all the halves, because let's face it, a sub-2 this time was laughable. So I decided to really enjoy the course and walk if I had to. I decided to stop at the aid stations that I passed up on in the previous races, to enjoy the tastes of what they had. It was there I tried a new gel - and if it didn't sit well with my stomach, there was a port-o-potty at mile 12 somewhere -  had some coconut water, ate an energy bar, and got my leg sprayed with some cooling mist to help with the dull leg pain that I was having. I crossed the finish line in 2:17:12.

Well, time wise, you can see where the trend is going, and I'm determined to change it's direction.

After a glutton filled November and December, and a temporary break from running, 2017 wasn't an easy refresh button. I still struggled with waking up early and motivating myself to go run. At one point, I decided to run 5K a day for 10 days in a row. I did just that, but it didn't spark any new motivation in me. I even found I was warding off a slight metatarsal tweak.

But I reflected back to how I first started. Small steps. I'd have to bounce back from my lax days, but I knew I could not do it instantaneously. Gung ho attitudes do not work well for running, or you risk injury or disenchantment, and I tend to have a very enthusiastic gung ho attitude! To earn back the high mileage I needed for training, I'd have to humbly start from 1-2 miles.

So now, with the half a few days away, I'm using my taper time (riding off of 250-275K monthly training for the last several months) to blog about my journey. Running a sub-2 means averaging 9:09 min/mile. Given my last long training run of 15.25 miles, I'm confident I can run a sub 2:05:00. Yet, a 1:59:59 (or lower!) is still within reason.

Whether I crack it or not, I am still thrilled with the progress I've made so far. What sparked this goal was to see if I could transform myself into a better runner than I was before. And with recent PRs in both 5K and 10K distances, and dropping PRs in consecutive 5Ks, is very satisfying. The awards - extra medals for age division wins, and the recognition for winning first women's overall in a 5K - a big shock to me - are little fruits of the efforts along this journey.

I'm a bit nervous to toe the start line on Sunday. But, mostly excited. This race in particular is very close to my heart. Along with thousands of others, I'll be getting there pre-dawn, pre-loaded with carbs.

We'll line up at the start corrals.

And together we'll watch the sun rise.


*Good luck to all the 5Kers, halfers, and marathoners this weekend! Go get 'em!*


Global Running Day

When I was a kid passenger riding around my neighborhood or town, I remember seeing runners of all ages and ability. Though I considered myself somewhat athletic, I saw running as a difficult, laborious activity. Put it curtly, it was my least favourite activity. These runners stood out to me.  It made me question:

WHY?

Why would anyone want to be that out of breath for a while? Why would anyone subject themselves to painful repetition? Were they trying to lose weight? But some of them already looked in fantastic shape! Could it possibly be fun for them? Why was it fun? Why run?

So many questions.

It's not that I was an inactive kid by any means. I loved sports, particularly swimming and tennis, so when high school PE came about, I was thrilled when we did those activities - except for the coaches words:

"Warm up on the track."

Or, "Run a mile on the track - you'll be timed."

The pebbly, crumbly graham-cracker colored texture on the track was a sight and sound I dreaded.

A few months into freshman PE, I began to have knee issues, and after repeated visits to the doc, I was put into physical therapy.  The most exciting part for me was getting the doc's note that I could not participate in PE. So I sat on the sidelines eating vending-machine bought twinkies three times a week while my classmates did their loops around the track.

Running is bad for your knees, was a sentiment I gladly propelled. Guess running isn't for me. But in retrospect, that excuse was a great teacher -- we are only limited by what we believe in. Meanwhile, not really grasping what physical therapy meant - as I was one of the younger ones there - I saw it as a specialized gym where people demonstrated exercises and then praised you a lot. (No offense to any PTs out there - you are very much needed and appreciated!)

Why am I even here then? I wondered at one point, as I moved from the squat area to the balance board area.

As I sat on the seated leg press, my train--- I mean, therapist -- said, "Ok, your quads are getting stronger."

I had fairly big legs then (thank you twinkies) and now they were even bigger.

Fast forward a few years, during my senior year, my family and I signed up for a local 5K - a first race for all of us. Three miles seemed like a lot, but all I thought was, I'm doing this for a good cause for charity. 

Being newbies, we lined up close to the start. Maybe it'll be over sooner if we're up front? was the logic.

After the horn blew, I got passed up by about 99% of the people -- and I went out way too fast, getting myself a side stitch by the end of mile 1.

And Mile 1 was downhill.

That was 2001.

I never really owned a proper pair of running shoes since then, or decided to attempt a real run again...until 2014.

I'd been keeping up with cardio dance classes, and lifting small weights for a couple years, and felt peppy enough one day to set foot on the track that loomed nearby. But instead of having classmates and race competitors nearby, it was just me, my shoes...and the loop.

I could go at any pace I wanted.

So I just did a slow jog. I'm sure a turtle could have passed me.

But I kept going. I didn't let myself get winded, but instead just enjoyed taking step by step.

Step by step.

And so today, on Global Running Day, I think back to my journey, and how now, I enjoy running. I just might be one of those runners you see outside, and if you wonder...WHY? I hope you get to lace up your shoes sometime and see for yourself :)

Whoos in El Moro 10K Trail Run

Trail running is a lot different than road running. I like to call it hiking with a huge hustle. Most likely you won't run it all, and instead power hike some of the inclines. And it's perfectly acceptable to walk - even the elite trail runners like Jim Walmsley, Magda Boulet, and Killian Jornet (ok, so he's more mountaineer and sky runner, which means his training enables him to float on the uphills as easily as you and I will sleep) power walk good portions of their ultra course. Aside from elevation gain and loss, other facets that separate trail from the road are the technicality of the terrain - how rocky or unsmooth it is, and the fact that your splits on trails don't mean much because every mile on the trail is different.

But what remains the same for any type of race: doing it in the least amount of time as possible.

So when I showed up to the beautiful Crystal Cove State Park for a 10K, I was nervous and excited. Nervous because it was my first 10K race this year. All along I'd been racing 5Ks. On flat roads. The worse anomaly you might see would be a pothole or a funny crack in the pavement.

I'd done the Whoos race last year - as a 50Ker. Is that even a word? So returning and doing the 10K seemed like a super short distance in comparison. We'd just go up that one big hill, surface out, and it was all downhill from there - hopefully literally, and not figuratively.

The weather was gorgeous, a breezy 65, and perfect for a trail run, with just the right amount of overcloud. I brought my dinged surfer hat just in case the sun decided to do what it does best. It's also perfect weather to whip out a beach chair and sit there all morning.

7 am view 

But I had rested up the day before, purposely restricting myself from running or any workouts of any kind. I like doing that so on race day, my legs feel fresh and fired up, and itching to run because I put them in time out for a day or so.

Unfortunately, I had a macchiato the day before, not realizing what the caffeine would do to me. I tossed and turned until 3 am. Playing a word game on my tablet usually invokes the snooze, but I was alert as ever, and even won a couple games, which only fueled the fire. Turns out I also RSVP'd to some events, and nearly bought something off my amazon wish list (the item remained in my cart when I woke up later). 

Two hours of sleep, a big hill to conquer, 6.2 miles to cover - this would be an adventure! I always say I'm not going to race but I was going to run those miles "comfortably hard," whatever that means. Usually the competitive mindset kicks in and I'm more about strategy more than I think. 

Parking was easy, bib pick up was super smooth, and even the shirts were cool. That's one cool perk about Whoos. I scanned the crowd, wondering how many opted for the 50K and 25K, which had already started an hour ago. Again, I felt relieved I was not in that group for today. Confidence for the 10K was firing up now. 

Looked like there were no more than 20 of us. People here looked like serious legit runners. They looked fast. Suddenly I found myself thinking a new goal: Just don't finish last! I mean, someone has to, and that was me last year for the 50K. I really did not want a repeat of that. You could hear all the watches beep as we were preparing for take off, as race director Molly made her announcements about the course. An aside, Molly is a hardcore ultra runner as well, doing 50 and even 100-milers. Just thinking about that made the 10K seem like a small slice of the pie.

"Ready, set....go!!!"

And the small pack of us were off. Usually I'm pretty good about pacing the first mile, not going out too fast, because I've hit the wall on some longer races and hitting the wall is one of the worse things you can do. It feels like suddenly you have magnets in your shoes that are sucking your feet to the ground. 

So I wanted to just enjoy the course, take in the scenery of the trails, and plan to tackle that hill coming up in mile 2.

Shaped like "M" for monster hill 

Even before the first mile was up, I was passed by quite a few people. I might be the caboose now, and that's ok, but things can change with the hill, I thought. Then, boom. Almost felt like you were going up an elevator, except you were breathing hard and found yourself turbo walking up parts of the hill. A lady in front of me in neon pink pants was steadily jogging up the hill. Miraculously, I managed to trail her the entire ascent, despite me doing a combo of running and walking. I felt like I walked at least half of it, and would run 10-15 steps and go back to walking. Finally after what seemed like forever, the trail curved and I could hear the two guys (the course guides) cheering us on. The enthusiasm helped but I was pretty winded and also felt my quads noodle out. Too early for noodles! 

But right then and there, I realized this is the kind of race I was waiting for. One that pushed me cardiovascularly, and muscularly. Might sound strange, but on road races I don't really get to that point - I do run out with good effort, but as a distance runner you can't just go all out from the start. 

I had to walk several steps at the top of the hill. Seemed like a waste because the land was now flat! But I had to catch my breath. I jogged a few steps and felt a new wind of energy, and felt my feet picking up again - and in a race, that is one of the best feelings ever. I continued to run to the aid station at mile 3. The trail was relatively flat but still looked like a mini roller coaster. By mini, I mean give or take about 20 feet in gain and loss. In other words, tiiiiiny.  My body was able to charge through it after summiting the monstrous one we just finished. And good news - it was all down hill from here!

Downhill running technique is something quite different. I increased my turnover and focused on feeling light in my feet. I actually had a lot of fun, and could feel the obliques firing up, trying to keep the torso inline with all the rapid pounding. I was scanning the trail for rocks to avoid, but even so, felt like a large barrel rolling down the side of the mountain. I even clocked in my fastest pace ever in a race (7:07 a mile). But just as I was feeling so light and good and having fun, I was passed up by another racer. Her running style looked effortless, and she was soon out of sight. I have to laugh, getting passed up on a downhill does not happen often! 

I kept focusing on my form, but I was having so much fun. Imagine running fast and not getting winded! Once I got to the bottom, I checked my watch: 52 minutes in. Hmmmm, with a mile to go, maybe I could finish a sub-hour? I was feeling pretty good and had a new reserve of air. 

The final mile was on a slight decline, and I was trying to push it. I could see hikers coming the opposite direction. I was smiling from having so much fun. They smiled back and it was just a nice warm vibe. It made the finish line feel like it came sooner than I expected. With that kick in my step, I hurried through to the end and stopped my watch.

1:01:01.

A new PR! Smashed my old one of 1:27:36. 

Time for some stretching and beach relaxation





Just Run

After a day of meetings, work, and teaching; then eating and grocery shopping (the most important errand for runners) I faced a fork in the road: to run or not to run?


I was super hungry, and decided to call it a rest day and run tomorrow (probably the most overused excuse).

So I sat and read up on running speed, so I could feel like a part of me was still..."running."

But let's go back for a second, to when I started running, nearly 3 years ago, when all I cared about was finishing my mile. Keep your goals reasonable, they say. And with running, nothing could be further from the truth. Once my feet hit the track, I was not stopping, but I sure was turtling along. I was not going for time.  After the final loop, I was amazed I did it, that I almost forgot to stop my watch. Beep! 

09:45.

But even more amazing -- I felt like I could run more.

Soon that task became easier, so I upped it to 2. You can see where this is going.

Eventually, I settled into a routine of running. Two miles in - boom. Done. Three, four miles if I had the time - I was also heavily cross training and dancing then. Unlike the high school PE days, I now enjoyed running. Several months later, I began to wonder...how fast could I run a mile? Another question in the back of my mind was also...how far? 

Essentially, speed boils down to a simple equation: stride length and cadence. The trick is, as one increases, usually the other decreases. And then add the complication of injury - it's known that overstriding, or trying to reach your foot out too far, causes a chain reaction of foot/knee/hip problems, plus it's just poor form. I'm no expert here, but I can say from experience that indeed, you'll be more natural at one or the other. I find that my stride falls on the rather short side; that even during sprints and when I'm really pushing, I can make 1.2 or 1.3 metres.  My cadence around 171-174 can feel like a nice jog, but maintaining 180 feels much more difficult.

And what if you're a runner who can make 180 steps per minute, but still are running 8-9-10 minute miles? Does it mean we have no other real choice but to focus on increasing stride length? And how?

And that, I've found, is the true art of challenge to running. Seems easy to put one foot in front of another. But, that's where the technique lies.



Declared Rest Day

Ok - I declare today a rest day. Not because it's a Saturday, but I'm surprised at how sore I am.  My quads, hamstrings, and even calves are at it with a whining fest.

Taking notes on the track 

And you know what's surprising? It wasn't caused all by running. No, it was caused by - and I'm going to say the "G" word - because I've been avoiding it like the plague - the Gym. Recently - well more like the last 6 months,  I'd gotten carried away with just running, and neglected things like strength training, drills, and cross training. It's easy to get carried away with just you, your running buddies, and a pair of shoes. (I'll never forget that agonizing 10-mile loop last spring! And many thanks to Rod to pacing with me from mile 3ish onward. I started out too fast trying to keep up with Mike and then lost him about 2 miles in.)

So yesterday, I temporarily parted from my running shoes and reintroduced myself to my longtime gym. A famous athlete and personal trainer (I'm forgetting his name) said choose a gym that's close to you, because you'll go. So true. The gym I committed to is about 25-30 minutes away. My logic is, why sit that long when you can squeeze in a 5K? See? I can hardly sit still, and most of my friends will strongly agree.

So when I realised my mile time (9:30 min/mile) slowed by almost one minute off my PR pacing splits in a half-marathon -- I was, to say the least, disgusted. I also had the guts to finally admit to myself that I hadn't seen a treadmill, or a leg press machine, or heavy free weights, or heck even showed up for a group exercise class -- since August 2016. Eight months ago. In September-October, I completed 4 races in back to back weekends (10K, 5K, 13.1M, and 10M) and felt fine - in fact, I set a PR for the 10 miler.

Then, the holidays settled in and I settled in as well. Big time. Found myself sitting...mostly sitting...in restaurants catching up with people I hadn't seen in a while, because you know runners and our schedules - "Sorry, 8 pm is too late, I have to be up at 3 am for a race" type of excuse. But it felt nice to sit, and next thing you know, one dessert leads to the next, and your excuse for eating macarons is that you're still eating a "variety" of colours:
 
This is still healthy, right? Because it is a rainbow of colours.

But -- during all this, I still ran for fun, despite doing zero races in December, and made sure I saw my 20 minutes of outdoors and kept up enough to run a couple 5Ks in January and still finish sub-30 - barely. Know that your fitness can slip away from you and you not even know it...if you fail to test it! I saw my times gaining by 30...50...even 60 seconds. I chalked it up to lack of sleep, or running less than usual, and the late night burger (I'm sure we've all been there.) After all, I had been running throughout December! Mini milers!

So when I realized I was blasting through 5K races and feeling winded at times close to 30 minutes (and my PR is 27:11 on a true 3.1 mile course), I thought, weird.

Back to the gym. Time to get some strength back, I admitted. Time to show up again to see if they have any new equipment since I was last there. Or if they moved anything. Since it was quite a drive, I committed to staying 1 hour. That is a huge commitment for me. One hour exercising that's not purely running? Anyway, I decided to do a circuit type of training, alternating drills, weights, and jogging/running (couldn't resist the last part). Suffice to say about 20 minutes in, I wanted to be done. I was breathing louder than the music that was blaring. But I stuck it out for the entire time, also wondering how I used to do this every week in a group class setting.

And now, today. Definitely feeling it. The foam roller is my friend. So it turmeric and avocados and other anti-inflammatory foods. And what a good time to sit and blog, too.

Carlsbad 5000: All Day 20K

An "all day 20K" sounds long. All day? It is a test of endurance, though packed into short bursts of four 5K races. The Carlsbad 5000 attracts many runners, because of it's relatively flat and fast course in downtown, you guessed it, Carlsbad, CA. Each 5K was divided into the following groups:

Masters and Men over 40
Masters and Women over 40
Ages 20-29
Ages 30-39

So guess what the all day 20Kers did? 

We committed to all four races.

As soon as I heard about the 20K, my hand gravitated towards the "REGISTER" button. This would be a cool challenge, and if I was going to make the trek to San Diego, I might as well run four races instead of one, right? 

Plus, another question I had for myself was, would this be more difficult or easier than a half marathon? I had to find out. My hunch was this would be easier, because I had at least 30 minutes break between each race. But, 5Ks tend to be fast, so perhaps I would burn through more sugary carbs, and use more fast twitch muscles, yet need to rely on the endurance muscles to...endure this four times? 

The first race started at 6:55 am, which meant wake up was 4 am. It was chilly out, dark, and my first thought was, "Well...at least some people wake up at this hour." My mom kindly agreed to come along and be my cheerleader, photographer, and elite runner sidekick oogler. I opted for VIP parking, which cut down on the stress and time weaving through the road-closed downtown area. Totally worth it. 

The infamous row of Port-o-Potties

Because the course crossed the railroad tracks, the start times had to be adjusted with the train schedule. So a tad after 7 am, we were off! The majority of the runners were men over 40, and I definitely got passed up by guys twice my age. Like I said, this race attracts the speedsters!


The front of the pack looking very...speedy

I knew I had 3 more races to run, so I tried to pace ultra conservatively and not get too carried away with the speed of the others. Closed out the first mile in 8:49. A bit on the fast side for my strategy. 
I ended up hanging in there and pushing it and finishing in 28:20.

Pretty stoked, a little red, and already onto water bottle #2
I was feeling pretty good, and ready to take on the race #2, which was supposed to start around 8:12 but got pushed back to 8:26. Again, train schedule. I had grabbed some fruit and snacks at the finish line but wasn't hungry. Instead, I popped an energy gummy that tasted like a watered-down, jello'ed version of the Starburst candy. Hopefully it'd deliver some sugars to my muscles fast.

Race #2 with the Women's division felt better! Either because I had "warmed up" or was just enjoying running in mostly feminine energy. I finished in 29:45. Now, I was starting to feel hungry.

Eating anything I could get my hands on


The ladies taking off - I am not pictured because I was not in the  5 minute per mile corral :)

For race #3, I was starting to feel a bit fatigued. Wasn't sure if it was more mental than physical. I had been in "race mode" since 7 am, and it was now 9 am. If I were running a half marathon, I'd be nearing the finish line at this time.

But - the all day 20K was only half over. Race #3 slated to start at 9:26 am. I spend the time waiting and digesting several crackers and a blood orange. 

Originally, my goal was to run all four races under 30 minutes. Seemed reasonable at first, but going after how I felt, I changed it to just run all of them nonstop. No walking. That's one thing endurance running has taught me. Be adaptable. 

I ran it in 31:37. 

Ok, more like ran-jogged. My legs were starting to feel like steel. Not in the power way, but the weight way. 

Yug.

So my finishing picture after race #3 is more of a starting energy for race #4. I got this!!!!!



By 10:30, the final race was off. Three and a half hours after the initial race. 

We ran the same course, so this time around it was like running in auto pilot. Oddly enough, it didn't seem long, as repetition can make things, at least mentally, seem much longer. In fact, it felt faster than the first race, even though I know I "snailed" out on this one. 

Non-stop running got me a finish time of 32:29 for the fourth and final leg.

I was glad to be done. Didn't have much more energy to do another 5K. 

However, it did make for some pretty data: 


I was ready to now be a spectator and watch some of the elite races that followed us. It was awe inspiring to see these runners clocking in 13, 14, 15 minute 5Ks. 

Stride length goals, among many others

Awesome!

I left the race physically tired, but mentally refreshed and inspired...hey that rhymed!

Was it easier than a half marathon? No way. I thought the waiting times between the races would be an advantage, but it feels like getting the miles done in one go is easier, provided you pace yourself well in the beginning.











For The Love of Running 5K

The name of the race says it all - for the love of running.

Yes, I love running. There are some days where I don't like running. I feel like running away from running. Running to the kitchen to eat because I'm bored - but know I don't want to run.

But most of the time, I love running. If I wake up with a knee or hip tweak, I'm bummed. If I see it's raining out, I'm bummed. Worse of all, if I sleep in and realize that at 7:30 am it's already 75 degrees and sunny out, I'm bummed.

When the sun's out - time to be lazy


But this morning, rain or shine - I was ready to take on this 5K. This is my second race of 2017.

I don't race for medals, or the bragging rights, or because I have nothing better to do at 6 am on Saturdays or Sundays. The real race is against myself, seeing if I can better a PR, test out a new technique, a new nutrition plan. Being out there with other runners, finding out what their backgrounds and stories are, is what it's mostly about.

Different people exploring the same trail

I show up to Long Beach Marina Park - close to 7 am, to pick up my bib number. Parking's open and easy, as long as you don't choose the streets. There are runners doing their warm ups, high knees, sudden sprints. They look serious. Then you have runners who are clearly in it for the fun and social reasons, dressed up in costumes - but who knows, they could be speedily legit. Remember the guy who ran a half marathon in a full suit? A new record was set for that recently. To each his own.

What I like about the company who organizes these races, A Better World Running, is that they keep their races relatively small (under 400 people total for all the race lengths), they are about personal goal achievement, and they keep their entry fees lower than the average. That's because they do away with the t-shirts. I checked my closet and I have plenty of race tees I hardly ever wear. I recommend checking out their races, as they put on a several a month. You do get a finisher medal, and the usual race swag of samples. Plus I like how they allow you to pick up your bib on race morning, rather than the day before. Some of us live outside the area, so it saves us that extra trip.

Next to the Start/Finish line. Low key, diverse, and organized!  

A few minutes before race time, they announced the course, how it was marked, and what to expect. There were no corrals or pacers. Just a few simple words, and we were off.

Running along the beach on the cement path was refreshing! It had rained the night before, giving the air this crispness that my lungs desperately needed, not even 1 mile in. My pace wasn't outstanding, and certainly not my fastest - but I pushed on and tried to enjoy the run. I was glad to see the turn around mark, and knew I was half way there. Usually my tactic is to run each mile a few seconds faster, but by mile 2.5 I felt myself dialing back a bit. A quick snapshot of my holiday glutton and parties flashed in my mind, but now was certainly not the time to dwell on all the less-than-ideal foods consumed, and how much more couch contact time I'd had. I focused on my breathing exercise, and before I knew it, the finish line was in sight.

Goooo for it!! That's the thing about 5Ks, you have to go fast. Unlike half marathons, or even 10Ks, there's really no warm up mile, a pacing strategy of building up speed. Once you're off running in a 5K, you're running. Running as if the finish line were 100 m away.

An (unflattering) reminder of efforts during the final 100 yards

When I crossed the finish line, the lady with the stopwatch was saying, "Okay, 1, 2.....and 3." She handed me a medal, then some volunteers handed me another medal (the finishers one). What?? Looking closely, turns out I also received an overall 2nd place finish for womens. WOW. Was not expecting that. All 3 top women finishers finished within 10 seconds of one another. In fact, all of us were surprised, and we took turns snapping pictures for one another. For the lady who won first, this was her first 5K. Awesome!



And that's what I loved about this race -- it welcomed people of all ages and abilities, and promotes running for the sake of running.