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“Do as I say, not as I do” is the sure sign of a hypocrite, yet that’s my message to you about trail racing… Up until December 28th, I had not considered that running on a trail would be THAT much different than running on the road. They both have hills, they both have twists, I figured the main difference would be the many, many more opportunities to trip over a pebble and inadvertently re-enact the Mary Decker-Zola Budd fiasco of 1984 (only with at least a dozen more runners going down). Oh my sweet, ignorant optimism!

Before I get into the story, the backstory is two-fold. One, I’m on a mission to land on earth in the Half Fanatics. Two, I’ve signed up to run 1,000 miles through Run This Year. (If you haven’t signed up yet, go! Sign up! It is free, and there are sweet swagalicious prizes!)

Brazen Racing hosts a series of 24 trail races each year, all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area.  Everyone I know raves about their races, so I decided to sign up for a pair: the New Year’s Eve (actually held on December 28) and the New Year’s Day.  Those who finish both receive a pretty nifty triple medal.  A great reputation with runners plus a pretty shiny equals a race I want to run.

So on December 28 I reported to Lake Chabot for my very first trail run: a half marathon, naturally.  As the cheerful volunteer handed me my bib, the starting bell rang (exactly on time), and I managed to politely throw my gear bag at another volunteer as I darted off to the back of the pack, fumbling with my bib along the way. I wasn’t quite the very last to start, but I was close, starting up Nike+ and silently resolving to leave earlier for the January 1 event.

All was run, run, walk, run, walk, walk, run until the first climb.  Since I ran the inaugural  Tiberon By The Bay Half Marathon in 2013—Tiburon, meaning “shark” in Spanish, gets its name from the gigantic shark-fin shaped hill that dominates it—I am not afraid of hills.  Well, I wasn’t afraid of hills until I hit the first one.  It is not a good sign when I find myself gasping for air before I’ve hit the first mile marker.  Oops.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFortunately, I’ve adopted a Panglossian “I run in the best of all possible worlds” mantra, and laughed my butt off (or at least the parts of it that were not in major pain). Since my two favorite ways to describe my “racing” are (1) “I don’t run fast, I run cute. Play to your strengths,” and (2) “I’m not slow, I’m maximizing the value of my entry fee,” I just plodded along, running on the (very few!) flat parts, chugging slowly up the mountains like The Little Engine That Could, and stopping to pet the cute dogs I met along the way. I ran up to the first hydration and aid station, where I finally met the famous Endorphin Dude! Then I chugged up yet another mountain. I skipped and hopped over the suspension bridge because it was fun to make it go bouncy-bouncy. I lingered at the remaining aid station buffets, downing some electrolytes and Energy Bits, picking up some Jelly Belly beans to take along with me in a little Dixie Cup. The Brazen volunteers were all happy and encouraging, the weather was perfect, and the views of the park were gorgeous. (Yes, I stopped at the top of every hill—I EARNED that view, thankyouverymuch.)

Along the way, I learned that running downhill can be every bit as hard as running uphill. After considering the “gaiters” that some runners had on kind of dorky, I felt much less smug when I stopped to pick rocks out of my shoes. I managed not to trip on any pebbles, but I did stub the same toe on four or five different tree roots, and the eucalyptus tree bits tried to stab me in the ankles several times.

When I finally crossed the finish line, more than FOUR HOURS after I started my race—dude, people run WHOLE marathons in less than that!—I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was not the Dead Last Finisher. A cheer erupted as I crossed the finish line (really, people cheered!) and found several runners I’d met during the last year hanging out at the finish line. The Brazen Racing team had put on a post-race smorgasborg including coolers full of the It’s It ice cream sandwiches (the real San Francisco Treat!) and every manner of salty and sweet and carb-o-licious snack you might want post-run, plus bananas and juicy blood oranges.

After I got home, showered off, and put my pajamas back on, I was very glad I had already signed SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESup for the New Year’s Day. At the time, I wasn’t sure my legs would let my fingers sign up for any more races! Fortunately, New Year’s Day ran the course in reverse. This turned several super steep climbs into downhill crawls. I took delight in the bouncy-bouncy bridge (this time crossing it by myself, so it took a little more skipping and hopping to make it happen) and shaved just about 30 minutes off of my New Year’s Eve time. Go, me! The trail racing adventures continued that week as I ran my third trail half on January 4 (for those counting, that makes 3 in one week), but that’s another story for another day.

Want to try running a trail? Check out Brazen Racing. They offer a variety of distances, great course support, and a volunteer program where your volunteer hours turn into race discounts or free race entries.

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Have you ever run a trail race?

My running goal was never “to win this race.” I am fond of telling people that I look at racing this way: I’ve seen the Olympics, and at the end they give the people who win a big medal; every time I cross a finish line someone hands me a medal, so I must win A LOT of races!

A classic first-child/Type A/perfectionist/otherwise-driven personality, sticking with something that I’m not particularly “good” at (and frankly that I don’t know I like) is challenging for me. One of the ways that I have kept myself from getting crazy insane and overly serious about running is the Sparkle Skirt. It is pretty much just like it sounds–a skirt with sparkles on it. Totally ridiculous, as you can see:

Snoopy and Kat after Santa Rosa

On the left you can see me in the Sparkle Skirt (a commando model, since I like to wear compression shorts/tights) posing with my running buddy Kat and everyone’s favorite beagle after the Santa Rosa half marathon this past Sunday. (Santa Rosa, for those who don’t know, is the home of Charles Schultz. There is even a small Snoopy-shaped labyrinth.)

The Santa Rosa half marathon (and marathon and 5k) is in its fifth year, and it has hit a sweet spot that many older races can only dream of achieving. As you can see from the photos (credit to Kat, by the way, as they are hers), the race comes with a sweet spinner medal on a fat custom ribbon, and instead of yet another race shirt all runners receive a track jacket.  (The jacket came in a men’s and women’s version–blue and pink respectively–and features reflective stripes and venting mesh.  They run true to size, even in the women’s sizes.)  Santa Rosa is also the only race I have personally attended where packet pickup takes place at a winery–with wine tasting. What’s not to love??

But wait, it gets better.

(You might want to sign up for 2014 now: http://www.thesantarosamarathon.com/ It will sell out again next year.)

There were so many porta-potties at the start/finish that I never had to wait in any line. (I never had to wait at all–I just walked along the line until I found a green/unoccupied indicator.) If you’ve ever been to a race and had to wait in line, only to find the one open potty has no paper or is already full enough to reek (or like me, you’ve waited in line so long you miss the starting gun) you know how important the porta-potty factor is. Nearby were two stands dispensing hand sanitizing foam. Best porta-potties ever.  I wish I’d taken a picture, as it was unbelievable.  This fact alone makes me bow in gratitude towards the organizers.

The start/finish was a combined area. As a starting area, there was plenty of room to mill about and warm up (note the total absence of lines for the porta-potties). Bag check had no line and was well-organized. Only a minimal amount of the street was closed off by barricade fences, making it easy to get around.

The course for the half marathon shared much of the course for the full marathon, and had some areas where traffic went in both directions (as part was out-and-back). Initially I was worried about (1) crowding, since I’m not the most coordinated of people and if there was a way to accidentally knock down the next Mary Decker my body would find a way to do it, and (2) figuring out which way to go, as Mom was directionally challenged (she literally got lost with a map and compass, after which the Girl Scouts wouldn’t let her lead hikes any more) and just leave it to me to run the course backwards or something. Neither of those was a problem, even with the marathon field looking about twice as big as the half field. The transition points were well-marked and staffed by volunteers, often with accompanying water/gatorade/snack stations.

The course was also pretty. Most of it was in a local/regional park with murals along the walls and/or greenery. The one thing I love about running, without qualification, is spending time outside. Blessed with gorgeous weather, the Santa Rosa half course was at its finest. I loved running alongside several vineyards, and seeing birds eating their breakfasts along the way.

Back to the start/finish, the finish chute was wide and the photographers were placed in such a way that even I couldn’t trip over them. Stepping off the course with my shiny new medal, I was greeted by volunteers staffing a fruit table stocked with cut watermelon (BRILLIANT!), oranges, apples, and bananas. Bottled water was plentiful. Stepping out of the immediate finish chute area, the park provided plenty of room for runners and their friends and families to enjoy the day. In addition to booths from the race sponsors, the finish line also had an inflatable “bounce house” for the kids, food trucks (including my favorite organic ice cream, Three Twins), a beer garden with pulled pork sliders for sale, live music, and a free pancake breakfast for the runners. My huge pancake, complete with butter and syrup, was just what I needed. After relaxing a bit and having some snacks, I walked the 2 blocks back to my car. Did I mention the organizers are smart enough to put the start/finish right next to several humongous mall parking structures? Booyah!

I will admit that initially my finish time–3:14–kinda bummed me out. Between January and July, I’d managed to whittle my time down below 3:00, but Sunday I was just beat. Was it the oncoming heat? A small touch of humidity? Oh wait! It was probably that on Thursday I donated double red cells at the Red Cross blood drive! (Somewhat ironically, the charity beneficiary of the Santa Rosa race was the Blood Centers of the Pacific.)

See you next year, Santa Rosa!

Honestly, I had very low expectations for this event for a number of reasons: (1) Lifetime Fitness, one of the main sponsors, promoted and sponsored a “Commitment Day 5k” on New Year’s Day 2013 and not only was the San Francisco event cancelled, I was never notified of the cancellation and spent part of New Year’s Eve scrambling around the internet trying to figure out where I was supposed to show up.  Also, still waiting for a refund. (2) The event was moved from its original location (Emeryvile, near me!) to Palo Alto, on a weeknight.  Seriously guys, who plans a run for a weekday evening at the end of one of the major traffic corridors in the country?? (3) Originally the event had a 10k and a 5k, but the 10k was cancelled just a few weeks’ out.

That said, I had a fantastic time!

Pre-event: The customer service team was quite accommodating and offered to allow me to either cancel my registration with a full refund or switch to the 5k with a partial refund (the initial cost for the 10k was a little bit more than the 5k).  Mad props to Stephanie Weber, the recipient of my initial email which included complaints about the cancellation of the Commitment Day run.  One day I was pleasantly surprised by an email informing me I’d won a full box of Luna bars; as promised, a full box of 15 Peanut Honey Pretzel flavored Luna bars arrived at my door via UPS.  Communication regarding logistics was adequate without being overwhelming.

Arrival: Parking locations were signed/easy to locate.  Lots were close to the start!  Check-in had a wait of a mere five minutes, with no waiting at bag check.

The course: A 5k out-and-back in a regional park (Baylands Nature Preserve) that will soon be closed to all events for several years, it had both negative and positive aspects.  I was annoyed by the narrow passage in a few spots, and decidedly uncomfortable on the unpaved sections, where I was literally eating runners’ dust (and crying it out from under my contact lenses).  On the bright side, it was a gorgeous day to be outside, the park setting was lovely, and the water station and cheerleaders did a great job.  The two-wave start was a great idea.  I loved seeing the girls from Girls on the Run smiling on the course (as they passed me in one direction or the other).

The swag and after-party: Decidedly great!  Instead of a race shirt, Esprit de She came with a cute tank top and reusable yellow cross-body bag (think Chico Bag, but with a cross-body design and an internal pocket).  The bag had sponsor samples, of course, and more were available at the finish line.  After I had a mimosa and a glass of wine, I enjoyed a vegetarian sandwich (I’m a vegetarian–meat-eater sandwiches were also available) and other snacks accompanied by live music.  I spent some time chatting at the Vega booth (more on that in a later post).  I skipped the mini massages, manicures, and makeovers, in part because it was getting chilly as the sun went down and in part because I had an hour’s drive ahead of me.  One thing I didn’t skip: entering the “text to win” by sponsor Athleta–I won a $50 gift card!

Conclusion: I’d definitely do this event again.  For one, Girls on the Run (http://www.girlsontherun.org) is a worthy recipient of funds raised by this event.  Second, there were a decent number of women who were running their very first 5k.  The event accommodated both the faster runners (definitely not me!) and the super slow-pokes (that’s me).  Finally, I had a great time even though only one of my running buddies was there.  I’m looking forward to 2014.

 

For more information on the Esprit de She series of runs, rides, duathlons, and triathlons, visit http://www.espritdeshe.com

 

Disclosure: Back in 2o12, I was selected to be one of the original Women’s Health Magazine “Action Hero” team members. The main purpose of an Action Hero was to promote the Run 10 Feed 10 event, benefiting FEED. The event has changed over the years and sprouted in new cities. There’s even an app! I retired from the Action Hero program after three years, but still think this is a great event. To see if there is one near you, check out the official Run 10 Feed 10 site.

Are you Hungry?

According to the World Food Program, a division of the United Nations, hunger is the world’s most solvable problem. The problem isn’t a lack of food–we have plenty on the planet. It’s about connecting that food to the hungry people that need it. Media showcase the obvious problems daily: hungry people living in war zones where the roads used to deliver food are no longer safe, or where armed conflict has forced people out of their homes and farmers away from their fields, or in areas struck by disasters from hurricanes to annual floods to earthquakes. Since most of us see that news via wifi or high speed internet from the comfort of secure homes with heat and running water, it is easy to forget that there are hungry people right here in the United States. Hunger may not be as widespread or severe as it is in other places (the World Food Program doesn’t even operations in the United States) but it still exists.

Pizza: a treat for me, a luxury for many.

Hunger isn’t seasonal.

You might think of hunger around the holidays–when there are always plentiful food drives and various churches, synagogues, temples, and other organizations sponsor holiday meals for needy families–but a child is just as likely to be hungry when school lets out for the summer and they don’t have access to the federal school lunch program. According to the FEED Foundation, a big proponent of school meals and the charity beneficiary of Run 10 Feed 10, the number of hungry has increased more than 30% since 2007. Hungry children suffer even more than hungry adults, as an empty belly makes it hard to stay focused and learn in school. Hungry kids don’t get the nutrients they need to grow, and often suffer health problems into adulthood.

Here is your call to action: sign up now to Run 10 Feed 10 (http://www.run10feed10.com).

As you run your 10k, you’ll know you’ve fed at least ten hungry children. If you choose to fundraise, you can feed even more!  The fundraising commitment–if you choose to go that route–is only $100.  That’s really low and easily achievable; just ask ten of your friends to kick in $10, or ask 20 friends to donate one day of latte/smoothie money ($5), and you’re there.  The events are fun, filled with women and men out to share a run and a cause.  Each participant is guaranteed a friendly run and a post-race gathering, complete with your very own FEED Foundation bag.

If you’re like me, you can go grab this from your fridge. Many Americans can’t, and many don’t have a home with a fridge.

The information in this paragraph is outdated. Check out the main site, link above! Until September 1, you can use the code WHBAIN to save on your registration fee (and still feed ten meals!).  The complete listing of events is at http://www.run10feed10.com  While I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ll be running in Los Angeles on September 29.  Other members of The Women’s Health Action Hero team will be at every scheduled event, and are creating events in other cities.  Check out http://www.run10feed10atlanta.com if you are in Georgia!  If you can’t make any of the events, simply run your own: you choose the when and where, and Run 10 Feed 10 will send your FEED bag directly to you.

Who’s in??

If you don’t want to Run 10, you can still help Feed 10! Check out the event’s Crowdrise page, and donate to the fundraiser of your choice.