Race Report: The San Francisco Marathon

IMG_20170723_095843I pick a verse for every goal race to focus on throughout the training cycle and race. For the San Francisco Marathon, I came across Proverbs 16:9, and it really got me thinking about where my heart was in this process. Running can easily become such a self-focused sport, and we lose sight of the mighty plans that God has for us.

Proverbs 16:9

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

Training Derailed

I formally started marathon training 7 weeks before race day, and about three weeks in, I started to have shin splints that hurt pretty badly, and more importantly, scared me enough to change up my training entirely. My coach utilizes intensity in practically every run, so I was out of a coach and out of a training plan once I made the decision to focus on health over performance. I’ve never had a stress fracture, and I want to take precautions to never reach that point! So I spent the last month with a lot of time cross training and running on a flat treadmill. I also added a few 20 mile runs that I wouldn’t have run with my previous training schedule.  Although it was disheartening to have my training derailed a bit, it was a really good reminder to evaluate my heart and keep my focus on God. Injuries are really good at giving us perspective!

Arriving in San Francisco

San Francisco was not a goal race for me to PR, but rather a race to go enjoy, perform well, and then enjoy our friends and drink lots of good wine out in wine country.  Jon and I spent the night at my parents’ house on Friday night so we could be with Cadence one more night before flying out. We did a quick 1.5 mile shakeout run before jetting to the airport for our first trip without Cadence. Since I’m still breastfeeding Cadence, I brought a manual pump to use at night and in the morning.

Jon and I arrived in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon and walked with our friends to the expo. On our way, I just about had a heart attack when I walked all of hills. I had been avoiding hills for the last month because hillwork made my shins hurt worse, and my goal was to make it intact to the race. This race was going to hurt! I picked up my elite bib at the expo, which was a really neat experience since this is the first race as an elite runner!  Dinner included lots of good food, great friends, and an early bedtime.

Race Morning

Our hotel was right across the street from the start, so race morning was pretty easy. My alarm was set for 4 am, but I didn’t sleep great and woke wide awake at 3:40 am.  I ate some of my mom’s homemade bread and half of a protein bar.  Jon and I got dressed and headed downstairs to meet our friends at 5 am. This is probably the first race where I haven’t used the porta potty before a start. It was so convenient to have the hotel so close!! I hopped into the elite corral at the front of the line and did a few warm up strides. I wasn’t nearly as warmed up as I should have been, but the corrals closed at 5:15 am, and I was afraid I’d miss the window if I went off and ran much.

One of the announcers was Dean Karnazes, which was really neat. I admit that I felt totally out of place standing up in the front, but it was still a really fun experience to stand with the elites. Finally, the whistle blew, and we all started running. I started out at about a 6:50 pace, and it felt like an effort. I knew I could hold the pace at that time, but I didn’t think this was a good sign for what was to come as far as pace was concerned. I didn’t have a goal though, so I didn’t worry. I was running beside the 3:00 pacer, and there were a few other guys clumped with him. I like to run with others, so I decided to stick with them as long as I could.

First Hill to the Golden Gate Bridge

We reached the first hill around 2.5 miles. I really wanted to see how the other guys handled the hill to get an idea of what I should be doing. We all slowed down to about an 8 minute pace and then flew down the hill. This was fine by me, and I was clicking right along. Things were feeling really comfortable and I was having a lot of fun. It was 57 degrees at the start, which is way cooler than anything I have run in a long time. There was a really dense fog and a headwind, so we were pretty much just running in a bubble.

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At about mile 5, we ran up a hill to the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t realize that we were even on the bridge until I looked up and saw the bridge towering overhead. It was so foggy.  The bridge is 1.2 miles with entry and exit adding to the distance. This was definitely my most fun part of the race. As we were crossing over, we saw the lead pack coming back over the bridge. And then it was our turn. All of the masses of runners were crossing the bridge as we were exiting. I saw our 3 friends and my husband. This is also where I learned that I was first female. I had so many other runners, especially female, cheering for me as I passed. If ever I felt like a celebrity, this was the moment.  I also knew that I should enjoy it while it lasted. 🙂

Running to the Golden Gate Park

We left the bridge around mile 9.5 and ran toward Golden Gate Park. Up until this point, pacesthe race was flying by and I felt really good, albeit tired of hills. Golden Gate Park seemed to last forever. And it wasn’t as flat as I had hoped. A really nice guy was running with me and tried to give me an idea of the landscape for the rest of the race. While it evened out more on paper, to the legs, it still felt really hilly.  Two girls passed me around mile 13. I had not really slowed down, but they were flying. I know that it was too early in the race to chase, and I didn’t have it in me to run their paces.

I got to see my husband and friends several times while I was in the park (they ran the half and finished in the park). This was a great boost to my morale. I was hurting a little, but it was more that I was just ready to be done with the hills. It wasn’t so fun anymore. I remember reading a race report by Tia Stone (@arkansasrunnermom on IG) who said that she felt relief at mile 20 because it was downhill. So I just kept looking for mile 20. My legs were tired, but not so tired that I really felt like I needed to slow down. My paces for the whole race were very much dictated by the hills. I had lost the 3 hour pacer guy (Carl) somewhere in the park, and the sun was so bright that I couldn’t really see anything in front of me (it was no longer a cool 57 degrees!)

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Map provided by The San Francisco Marathon http://www.thesfmarathon.com/the-races/full-marathon/

Running Past 20

The last few miles went by pretty slowly for me, but I didn’t want to slow down because I wanted to be finished. I only saw fuel at one stop at mile 8 (apparently I missed the other aid station), but I ate my Honey Stinger Gel and Honey Stinger Chews.  I also drank water at every other aid station. The second half of the race was direct sunlight and pretty toasty.

The last two miles of the race were by the bay, so it was flatter, but by then I had started to slow regardless of elevation change. I had not been running tangents very well, and my watch chimed at 26.2 as a sub 3 hour marathon, but I still had 0.34 to run. I knew that I was third female, but I did not know how much of a lead I had. I crossed the finish in 3:01:12 as the overall third place female, and my sweet husband and friends were there to cheer me on.

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Lessons Learned

The race was a challenge for me, but it was an incredible experience. The race director and all of the volunteers did a fantastic job with every detail! My least favorite part was definitely the second half, which was supposed to be the easier half. I am satisfied with my time and place, but I do wish that I had gone into the race with a time goal. I absolutely believe that if I had gone into the race with a time goal of sub 3, I could have hit the mark. By the time that I realized that I could have reached this goal, I didn’t have time to make it up. I believe that I could have shaved off time with a little more mental edge alone. So that’s a great lesson to be mentally sharp going into a race, even if you don’t feel very ambitious at the start. You never know until you try!

Post Race

After the race, we attended the awards ceremony. All of the top finishers were super congenial and energetic. What an honor to get to know them! As a prize, I got a new Fitbit, Jaybird wireless headphones, and some other smaller items. I also got a nice 3rd place plaque. My husband and friends made me feel like a queen, and I am so thankful for their sweet support. We all ate a big brunch together after showering, and then we masochistically walked all around San Francisco on tired legs. What an amazing city!

We finished up the trip with wine tastings in Sonoma and Napa on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s some cool data from my Milestone Pod. The main thing that I notice is that my foot strike changed for the uphills and the downhills. My stride length and ground contact were also better for this marathon than on my training runs. The faster I run, the more efficiently I run. Isn’t God good!?

If you want to order a Milestone Pod, use code PodTeamMeridith30 for 30% off until the end of July!

Easy day, extended breastfeeding, and the power of “baby spit backwash” for health

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Got in 30 easy min on the bike this morning with my sidekick. 👶 Cadence has a summer cold 🤧 and since I’m still nursing, I kind of hope to catch it so we can fight this thing together. 🍼Motherhood definitely changes you! 😂 We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with my grandmother, and my heart is so full. ❤️ #shenursedalldaylong #allbydesign #beautifullyandwonderfullymade #breastfeeding #extendedbreastfeeding #21monthsold #bestlittletrainingbuddy #motherrunner #crosstraining #homegym #marathontraining #womenrunning #womensrunningcommunity

I have a race tomorrow, but I’m using it as a training run.  It will be my last long run before the San Francisco marathon NEXT Sunday! The race is called Hot to Trot, and it’s an 8 hour timed event with about a one mile loop as the course. I plan to only run a couple of hours, and then maybe hike a little with Cadence. The REAL reason that I am excited about the race is that I get to meet one of my Instagram friends for the first time at the race. I love the running community!!

Cadence is sick with a cold, and I’m hopeful that breastfeeding will help speed up her recovery. Here is an amazing article talking about what happens when babies breastfeed (check out the excerpt below). I know that I am in the minority still breastfeeding at 21 months, but it doesn’t get much better than this for care of sick babies!

“According to Katie Hinde, PhD, a biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University (who also runs a blog called Mammals Suck … Milk!), when a baby nurses, it creates a vacuum in which the infant’s saliva sneaks into the mother’s nipple. There, it is believed that mammary gland receptors interpret the “baby spit backwash” for bacteria and viruses and, if they detect something amiss (i.e., the baby is sick or fighting off an infection), her body will actually change the milk‘s immunological composition, tailoring it to the baby’s particular pathogens by producing customized antibodies.”

Any other “extended breastfeeders” out there?

Ultra breastfeeding

I never fully appreciated the affect of hormones until I got pregnant in 2015.  Holy moly.IMG_20150612_210946272 Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about. Everything. Everything changes. And it happens pretty quickly as that tiny little poppyseed starts dividing cells.

Fast forward to after you’ve given labor and that watermelon is out of your belly. All normal, right? Nope!  If you choose to breastfeed, you are in for a whole new ride of hormonal bliss.  Yeah, bliss because that oxytocin is the real deal for happiness. There are also a lot of other things involved that can make you not so happy, so don’t start counting your chickens just yet.

About a year ago when I started this blog, I wrote about breastfeeding and running.  My experiences today are a bit different than they were when Cadence was a few months old, so I thought I’d add an update.  I’ve really relied on other mommas and their experiences with running, so I hope my story will help someone else figure out this whole breastfeeding and running journey.  As of today, Cadence is 19 months old, and we’re still breastfeeding. Some people call this extended breastfeeding, but the World Health Organization actually recommends that mothers worldwide breastfeed up to two years and beyond if possible.

First, let me say that breastfeeding is a very individual experience, and everyone’s bodies and babies are different.  Some people choose not to breastfeed or have another challenge that keeps them from breastfeeding.  Whatever I say in this post, mommas, don’t take anything personally.  The great thing about having our own babies is that we get to choose how we want to parent. We’re all in this together!

Frequency of breastfeeding with a toddler

At about 16 months, I stopped pumping at work, and we figured out a way to help Cadence sleep better at night (thank you hot husband).  So now I nurse once in the morning, once after daycare, once before bed, and once in the night (4x). I’m not quite ready to drop the night time feed, even though I know how delicious a complete night of sleep would be.  I really think that one of the reasons I have had such a solid supply is because Cadence has been a terrible sleeper, and I’ve nursed her a lot in the night when she wakes up screaming.  Prolactin hormone levels are highest at night for milk production, and our bodies learn to keep up with the demands.

Training as an extended breastfeeding mom

When I first started breastfeeding, I was absolutely affected by the need to pump or nurse a baby. For one, my boobs were full and uncomfortable, and two, baby’s gotta eat! Now that we are a little further on this journey, my cup size has gone way down (I can wear my old sports bras!), and I don’t nurse Cadence during the day, so training really isn’t affected.  I still take nutrition and hydration into account, but without the day time feedings, I feel much more like  normal person.  My volume of training hasn’t changed much. I still do about 50-70 miles a week with 3 nights of strength training. My running intensity is generally very high, and this has not affected my supply.

Racing as an extended breastfeeding mom

I’ve raced a few marathons (here is Boston and here is my sub 3 hour race in January) and ultra marathons (8 hour here, 100 mile here, and 100k here) since having Cadence.  My most notable breastfeeding performance was pumping throughout my first 100 mile race when Cadence had just turned one year old.  I recommend a hand pump for every (lactating) female athlete. It gives so much freedom to train and compete when you aren’t stuck next to a wall with an electric pump. I exclusively pumped with a handheld pump throughout all of my working and training days, and I have a freezer full of breastmilk to show for it.

If you pump during a race and plan to use the milk, be careful of how much caffeine you consume. Some fueling products include caffeine or other supplements that might not be safe for baby. Be aware that you will need to hydrate and fuel to compensate for the nutrition that is being diverted to feed that baby.  Aren’t our bodies incredible?!

I recently tested my first non-pumping ultra in April at Gorge Waterfalls 100k, and everything went fine.  I nursed Cadence the morning of the race, started at 6 am, and didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm.  All fine without pumping.  That evening, I was able to nurse Cadence without any issue. I have never had any problems with not having enough breastmilk to nurse Cadence after an ultra race, although I might not have had my usual oversupply.  For some of the shorter distances, I have actually noticed a bump in supply at times, and I attribute this to endorphins signaling to produce more milk (just like stress can have the opposite effect).  Everybody’s different here, but thankfully, I’ve never had to choose between racing and breastfeeding.

Hormones as an extended breastfeeding mom

They say that as long as you are still breastfeeding, you are considered postpartum.  19 months is a long trip to be postpartum! I had my hormones checked in December, and everything in the panel was returned in the normal range. I got my period at 16 months, so for the most part, my hormones are regulated. In order to breastfeed, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are depressed,  while oxytocin and prolactin are increased.  Now that my menstrual cycle has returned, my hormone levels are normal enough to signal the cascade of events for a regular cycle.  I’m not sure how this affects my performance since I still have hormones for breastfeeding as well.  I know that I will benefit from regular levels of testosterone and estrogen once I finally wean.

Future Plans with breastfeeding

I really don’t know how long we’ll keep breastfeeding.  I had no intention of going this long, but it’s worked for us, and I love the connection and nutrition that it provides for Cadence. Our approach to parenting has pretty much been “baby led” everything, and baby led weaning is no exception.  I think one of the biggest factors that has helped with motherhood and breastfeeding is that I have a husband who appreciates what we’ve done with breastfeeding and supports me when I need him.  I do think that I’ll perform better with running if I did not breastfeed because nutrition is such a key factor, and the body stores and uses carbohydrate differently according to hormonal signals.  This window to breastfeed is so short in Cadence’s life, and I’m thankful that we’re still on this ultra breastfeeding journey together.

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Anyone else out there have any stories of running and breastfeeding to share?