Fitness highlights for this month include two races, two 20+ mile runs, and lots of yoga.
On March 10 I ran the DSE St. Patrick's Day 5K along the very familiar Crissy Field route. As this race actually fell a week before the holiday it was named after, it didn't occur to me to wear green, and I in fact wore the orange-ish long-sleeved shirt from the US Half Marathon. Fortunately my purple jacket covered up most of it, at least before and after the event.
March 10 was also the first day of Daylight Savings, so I was somewhat sleep-deprived, and didn't plan on a fast time. I lined up too far back at the start, and spent the first 1/2 mile or so struggling to pass slower runners. So I was surprised to finish the first mile in 9:43, which was very close to the 9:36 min/mile pace at which I ran my first sub-30 minute 5K. And I just kept speeding up from there, running the second mile in 9:36 and the third in 9:24. The flat, fast course and 50 degree weather helped, but my own self-doubt crippled me, as I looked with disbelief at my watch that I was going that fast; I didn't feel particularly fatigued.
I ended up finishing in 30:10 for my second-fastest 5K time to date. My placement in the field was 189th out of 350 (54%), nearly my best for this club, surpassed only by the poorly-attended, rain-drenched four-miler last December. I made a mental note to line up closer to the front of the pack next time.
Two weeks later, I was back at the Marina for the DSE Walt Stack 10K, another familiar course. The first loop was nearly identical to the St Patrick's Day 5K, then the second headed to Fort Mason with a quick downhill to Aquatic Park followed immediately by running back up the same hill; a somewhat sadistic turn for the last mile of the otherwise-flat race. Somehow I misread the map and thought the the starting line was much closer to my home than it was, so after a two-mile easy jog I ended up nearly sprinting the last half-mile or so to the start, arriving breathless and sweaty less than ten minutes before the race.
Having run along this route quite frequently, I knew there was construction going on, and had heard the course might be shortened. I saw no course markings on the hill from Aquatic Park, so asked several people before the start if they knew if the course would indeed be shortened. No one knew. Finally, the race director announced that the people marking the course hadn't yet returned, that we might start without them, and therefore didn't know if the course would in fact be 10K, but that was just the way the club founder and race's namesake would have liked it.
We started right on time at 9 a.m. I lined up much closer to the front this time. After running the first mile in 9:43 (same as for the March 10 5K) and already feeling fatigued, I knew that this wouldn't be the day I would make my 60 minute 10K goal, especially if that hill were still going to be part of the course. I simply did my best, though watching numerous runners pass me was somewhat demoralizing as I maintained a pace of around 10 min/mile for the next three miles. By the time I got to Fort Mason I saw the hill was indeed marked, with a course monitor at the bottom to ensure we turned around. I tried to make up time by thundering down that hill (difficult with so many cyclists and walkers coming up the other way) before struggling back up, then running back through the meadow and out to the Marina as quickly as possible, but my time for that mile still ended up slowing to 10:34.
Sprinted to the finish in 1:03:28, which ended up being my second-fastest 10K to date (not counting the Big Gay 10K as that course was almost definitely short). My field placement was 136th out of 193 (70.5%), my best yet out of the six 10Ks I've raced with this club. My GPS measured 6.31 miles, so it's possible the course was a bit long (10K is 6.2 miles) as we did detour through a parking lot to avoid the sidewalk construction, but the course was not certified anyway, and if it were, I would have trusted the official measurements over those of my GPS. That length would have made my per-mile time a bit faster than my current PR 10K, so I'm pleased with this performance. Also very happy that boyziggy came to support me, taking photos at the finish line (though he too misread the map and got there later than planned, so had to rush to get the shots).
This race was also one of my few opportunities to beat some of the veterans in the club. Paul, the 71-year-old club photographer who has been at nearly every DSE race I've attended, is recovering from an injury, and even running on "one and a half legs" as he put it, finished in a very respectable 1:06:27 (normally he would have left me in the dust, literally). And Bill, the 65-year-old who started running ultras fairly late in life, told me he was "taking it easy" as he'd just run two 100-mile races the week before. He still finished in 1:05:49. I hope I'm as fit as these guys when I'm over 60. (Plus the numerous other seniors in the club; the guy who finished immediately after me in this race was 80).
This race took a lot out of me, between the three-mile warmup with the unexpected sprint at the end, the race itself, and the three-mile walk home (albeit with several stops for errands with Ziggy). I ended up missing my Free Farm Stand shift that day, but had already warned my fellow volunteers that I would be there late or not at all, as is the usual case when I have a race scheduled.
Those races are my last for a few weeks as I'm concentrating on building up mileage for the San Francisco Marathon in June. I'm adding two miles to my Tuesday long run every three weeks (dropping to about nine miles on the weeks in between), so this week a 22-mile run was scheduled to follow the twenty-miler from March 5. I followed nearly the same route, altering only the middle few miles to turn off the Great Highway at Wawona and run through Pine Lake Park and Stern Grove before turning around.
This course change turned out to be perfect, as I enjoyed Pine Lake Park (which I had not visited before) and Stern Grove (which I had not visited in many years). The only annoyance was that I was also planning to make my one restroom stop there, but the first two I tried were locked. Fortunately the final one was open, and I turned around after about 11 miles and 2 1/2 hours of run-walking feeling refreshed after a six-minute break.
By mile 15 though, I was feeling pretty tired, and my left knee and leg were bothering me intermittently. By mile 18 I was desperately looking for the road that would get me to the Conservatory of Flowers on my way out of Golden Gate Park, convinced that I must have missed it (though I had not; exact same overemotional reaction as during my 20-miler). I was feeling tired and irritable and wondering why I had ever signed up to run such a crazy distance. Passing 20 miles, I did not celebrate achieving my longest distance to date, but instead worried that my GPS watch battery was going to run out at any moment. Though I wore a second watch to keep track of the total time in that event, I really wanted the more detailed analysis from my GPS.
Running the home stretch back along Pacific Avenue, I became annoyed by all the traffic stops. I tried to run a bit faster to make up for time lost walking up a steep hill, but running downhill hurt my knee and running at all was a huge effort by that point. By Van Ness I finally decided to call it quits before my watch did, even though it was "only" 21.85 miles. I finished in 5:03:53 for an overall pace of 13:55/mile.
I was a mess that afternoon, but after food, rest, and a nap managed to recover sufficiently to walk a couple of miles later that evening to attend a concert, and a couple more miles the following day to attend my shift at the Free Farm. I started feeling quite fatigued after that though, and am skipping my scheduled run today as a precaution.
In between all of this, I've managed to keep up with yoga classes, actually taking four in a single week. My dear friend James now teaches at three different studios: Zazen, The Sun Room, and most recently Yoga Mayu, which I decided to visit for the first time last week (and really liked the space). Additionally, a volunteer at the Free Farm led a free gentle yoga session there last Wednesday before our regular workday started. (She did so again this week, but I was too tired and sore from my long run to attend.)
I don't expect to keep up this level of attendance at formal classes - one or two sessions a week is normal and sufficient - but in conjunction with my near-daily home practice, I feel I am getting a tremendous amount of benefit from yoga. Having such a sweet and encouraging friend for a teacher has made a world of difference. Whenever I doubt myself, he points out all of the noticeable progress I've made in the seven months I've been attending his classes. He suggests that I might want to do another nude portrait session this fall to compare with the one from last year, which I'm strongly considering.
When my body feels broken down from all this exercise and I question why I'm doing it and whether it's worth the effort, I remember my idol, ultrarunner Dean Karnazes, who is the one who convinced me to run the San Francisco Marathon. Dean wrote, "Somewhere along the line we confused comfort with happiness." U-verse did a great video feature on him recently. Watching that last night lifted my spirits and boosted my resolve. The pain is temporary. My body is undeniably getting stronger.