Presidio 10 Recap & #BostonStrong

Last weekend I ran the Levi’s Presidio 10-mile, a hilly but stunning race that takes you a mile into the Presidio and spits you out to the entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge. Up and over and back across the bridge, you finish on the flats of the Marina and right outside the Presidio Sports Basement. The morning could not have been more race perfect: a low 50s, lightly fog-layered Sunday devoid of any tangible breeze. 

At the start of the race, for the life of me I couldn’t get out of my head this song. I’m thankful it wasn’t ‘Let it Go,’ as our neighbors’ kids had been belting out that song on repeat all afternoon in their backyard the day prior. Still, once the gun went off my mind was a clean slate and had one item on its agenda: get over those damn hills. I was actually thankful for those hills because it forced me go out conservatively (roughly an 8-min mile) and store energy for the bridge. Many people love running over that bridge, but the slight incline on both sides and wind exposure often makes it a less-than-pleasant experience for me. However, this morning was an exception; most of the fog had lifted and blue sky touched blue waters. My breathing, stride, and smile carried me down to Crissy Field.

The remaining few miles didn’t quite fly by as fast as I had anticipated as the sandy stretch along Crissy dampened my spirits and splits a bit. My husband was standing somewhere near mile 9 but I never did see him. The only optimism I held onto was the pure flatness of the last miles, where I was able to maintain a negative split race overall. And of course, the strange inner workings of my mind somehow brought back to life the catchy beats of Vem Dançar Kuduro. I passed one female runner somewhere with half a mile to go, and held her off, sprinting (at least my best shot at it with heavy legs) down across the finish line. I won my age group (very surprised!) and finished 6th overall with a decent time of 1:12. Not bad for a first Presidio 10!

What will bring me back next year is not only the idyllic landscape and views the route offers but also the post-race expo. What CAN’T Bloody Mary’s, beer, and pancakes solve? I don’t tend to get hungry until at least an hour after a run this long, so while my husband cleaned off most of my plate, I enjoyed a cold Sierra Nevada while filling my bag with free giveaways (coconut water, Clif bars, and other deliciousness). The Guardsmen know how to reward runners who spend a Sunday morning exercising for fun.

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As I’m finishing this post, Boston Marathoners are laying out their race gear tonight and washing up, getting ready for a sleepless night before tomorrow’s marathon. I can’t help myself but stop and remember where I was over a year ago when the bombs went off on Boylston Street. Interrupted by jet lag in the middle of the night, I had turned on CNN and had stayed glued to it for the next 48 hours but what seemed like an entire week. A policy change for BQ qualifying times in 2011 was announced, but for some reason, I thought it was being applied for the first time the following year. Mistakenly, I ran the NYC Marathon in what I had thought was fast enough to get me to Boston in 2013, but had really missed the mark by one minute. My father told me last year and often reminds me that had I not been overcome with confusion, I would have run Boston last year, and he and my mom would have been out there somewhere near the finish on Boylston. It sends chills through my body every time I think about that.

Like many who are running tomorrow’s race not solely for a PR or a win but for the city of Boston, victims and families of those scarred by last year’s events, and the dozens of heroes that emerged, I believe our run family around the world is stronger than ever before. Tomorrow’s not just a race but a day of remembrance, a day of celebration, a day of resilience, a day of perseverance, and a day of strength. No one can take that away from anyone. No one can take that finish line away. I’ll be up at 8:30am EST tomorrow to cheer on our run family and the many heroes – young, old, amateur, and elite – that we all look up to. #BelieveinBoston
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A Ballad for Winter

Oh 2014 you move so fast.
Why, it’s already almost April.
You’ve been kind to me with the sun,
with rains coming down only hours at a time.

I’ve put off finger to keys
as jet lag, sleep, and midnight snacks
have claimed my body when
I’m not in bed, on the road, or in front of the flickering screen.

Alas I can no longer neglect my mind
for you, for them, for us, for me.
Time is how you define it –
there’s always and never enough but it’s always running.

Running free.
Like a bird I’m high-flying in the skies.
Heads up, wings out, running fast, taking chances
Why don’t you come run with me?

January junipers and jumping june bugs
I jetted to Jakarta and
jettisoned my jelly legs into the jams
running, running, and running.

A Five K came in February
Along the bluffs of Carpinteria
Cross country style across trails and sand
No PR, but a second-place finish, hooray!

Do you know the way to San Jose?
I do, and raced an Eight K.
Thirty-four minutes, eighth place finish.
Proud were my coach, parents, teammates, and I.

Running free.
Like a bird I’m high-flying in the skies.
Heads up, wings out, running fast, taking chances
Why don’t you come run with me?

Again amongst clouds on a Boeing
back to Indonesia I went where our event was a success.
I ran 3,000 feet above sea level,
on tracks, pot-holed roads, and in tropical downpours.

My better half and I planned a 36-hour rendezvous
in Taipei where our stomachs said:
“Feed me with buns, dumplings, noodles, and stinky tofu!”
We had no objections so dined among the market stalls.

Back to SF, and next day a Twelve K race,
Across the Bay, across the foggy bridge.
Catching up with family, friends, and familiar faces.
– a welcome Home…how many K’s next?

Running free.
Like a bird I’m high-flying in the skies.
Heads up, wings out, running fast, taking chances
Why don’t you come run with me?

And the winner is…

Wow. I am impressed and humbled by the combined experiences that everyone (nearly 100 of you!) has so graciously and generously shared with me over the past week+ on my blog. You runners from North America have traveled near and far, from trails in Oregon, tracks in Palo Alto, CA to loading docks in Costa Rica and hills in Africa. And you run with your heart. I’ve always believed that running (where security is not a major issue and is culturally accepted) is an incredible way to see a place, orient yourself, and discover new sights that a car or bus might not take you. Thank you for taking the time to read through my post and for sharing your most memorably runtastic, romantic, frightening, and adventurous run stories with me. I can also tell that for many of you, Oiselle already rocks your world, but that the Lesley Knickers would help out in the cool and foggy department, as well as the run-to-yoga transitions in life! Love it all. Thank you.

So that now brings me to the most anticipated part of this post, which is…the WINNER of the Oiselle Lesley Knickers! After selecting the top five responses I thought were particularly special, I randomly drew the winner out of a jar. Congratulations to Barbara R.! You’ll find an email from me in your inbox with more details! Again, thanks to all for participating, you all rock. A big shout out to Oiselle, who with open arms supported this giveaway and is generously providing a free pair of these fast and fiercely fashionable Lesley Knickers. For more goodies, make sure to visit http://www.oiselle.com.

Happy Friday,

Michelle
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January Blog Giveaway! Oiselle Lesley Knickers

I’m kicking off the 2014 blog year with something you don’t want to miss: a free pair of Oiselle Lesley Knickers. I had a rewarding 2013 season and I’m itching to see what 2014 brings, so from me to you is a chance to win a pair of high performance and high fashion capri running (or yoga!) pants!

Living in San Francisco, I get the best of both worlds in a day’s time: 70-degree F sun-shiny skies that turn into visibility-impairing, bone-cold enveloping fog. One minute it might be roasty toasty under the sun, and the next – the world looks like it’s about to implode, like a scene from one of those apocalyptic movies. On days like these (many summer ones), I prefer to pull on some capri running pants when I run in the early morning or commute home by foot. I rarely wear knee-high compression socks with shorts, so the capris have really been my go-to option. I’d put on a pair, but they’d either chafe or lose compression after a few wash cycles. On longer runs through Golden Gate Park and down to the Pacific Ocean, I sometimes have had to hold onto my GU gels because the capris either didn’t have sufficient storage or was poorly designed. And to be honest, I like my running apparel to make me look good (“look good, feel good,” right?). Some of these capris were downright unflattering – overly thick material that made my petite legs look stubbier than they already are.

After hearing about Oiselle over the interwebs a couple years back and buying a few of their run tees, I noticed tweet after tweet raving about these so-called Lesley Knickers that seemed to solve every one of my aforementioned problems. Somewhat dubious, I bought a pair of black ones and ventured out on a cool morning run.

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Well, these capris did not disappoint, and this is why:

Breathes, not restricts. From the long run to strides to track workouts, these Lesley Knickers keep me warm and relaxed without trapping in heat or restricting my leg movement. They never ride up, and the mesh material on the sides provides extra flow, especially among those who tend to overheat (me)!
Compression is its mission. Don’t let the material fool you; it may be thin but it compresses. On cooler days these guys keep my blood flowing and warm my legs up without constricting. Plus, say goodbye to chafing, because these bad boys don’t know what that even means.
Storage for food, keys, electronics, and more! I’m a big snacker – while at work, on the bus, in bed, or on my run. That means I have to have at least two gels with me on a long run – and there is plenty room in the back pocket for that. Plus, my keys fit in there and don’t get in the way. For those who like to pack your phones, the rear pocket will keep it snug and tight.
Smell good! Something magical is in this fabric, because after a few consecutive wears, these Knickers don’t even smell bad! Score!
Flattering – elongates my legs! The design is simple yet flattering. The stitching makes my legs feel longer, so that means for some confidence-boosting speedy workouts!

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Awesome-sauce pocket for storing your snacks or iPhone/Androids.

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Stitching makes me feel taller than my usual 5’3” self.

Bonus Part 1: I just tried them out in NYC this past weekend in 20-degree F temperatures. While Oiselle has made running pants specifically for that kind of frigid weather, I took the Knickers out with some long socks and voila, 15 miles done and done! These guys can get you through almost anything!

Bonus Part 2: Often times I even lounge in these – at home or out at a friend’s house. Win!

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This West coast winter wuss survived East coast temperatures, thanks to the Lesley Knickers!

So, what’s the point of hearing all this awesome sauce-ness when you don’t have your own pair? Well, I am giving all y’all a chance to win a free pair of these Oiselle Lesley Knickers! I’m grateful for 2013 and ecstatic for 2014, and this is one way of expressing that joy. Special kudos to my running apparel sponsor, Oiselle, for providing these multi-purpose, high-performance, and good-lookin’ tights. I’m already jonesin’ to buy a few more pairs!

To enter for a chance to win: Add a comment on this blog post above answering the question:

“Where is the furthest away from home you’ve gone for a run, and how would a pair of Oiselle Lesley Knickers rock your world?”

Brownie points for those who follow @michellelchang and @oiselle. Out of the top 5 responses I get, one randomly picked, lucky winner will be announced on Friday, February 7, 2014 morning! Thanks for participating and happy running!

CIM 2013: Another 26.2 Journey for the Books

I cried. That’s right, I cried tears of joy seconds upon crossing that finish line and embracing my family. I am not an outwardly expressive type, but man, 26.2 miles can numb your body and unleash your elemental emotions in a radical, single moment. And it does so even more when you’ve achieved your goal of running a new personal best and a Boston Marathon qualifier.

Let me rewind a bit – about six-and-a-half hours earlier that frigid, 25-degree December 8 day in Sacramento.

The Wee Pre-Race Hours: The Road to Folsom
I got up at exactly 4:04AM to go through my pre-race ritual of using the bathroom, drinking coffee, eating my PB bagel, and envisioning the race. The husband laid there like a dead rock (think about a rock, then imagine if it was possible, it was actually dead. That was him). I moved like molasses due to a poor night’s sleep (expected, but add train whistles every half hour and a noisy couple upstairs who clearly had just started dating, heh), but the rush of caffeine accelerated my routine. Soon enough, I found myself on the marathon bus, one amidst crazies, chattering about finish times and BQs (c’mon, let me rest some more in peace and quiet). Mom and Dad wished me luck and proceeded to raid the hotel breakfast spread at 5AM.

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Race outfit all laid out the night before.

Just a few minutes before 6AM, the buses arrived at the starting line of both the actual race and of the interminable rows of port-o-potties that were soon trashed with nerves-induced diarrhea, empty GU packets, and everything in between. Yuck. I think I counted two trips plus another in the bushes. Ladylike sophistication at its finest. Fortunately, we were allowed to stay in the buses to stay warm until 6:50AM – just 10 minutes before the gun went off. I milked that before finally making my way to the starting line, stripping off my throwaway layers (lifesavers) down to my shorts, tank, arm warmers, $2 Walgreens gloves, and $2 Walgreens beanie. Thank you, Walgreens. Can I get some sponsorship money now?

Race Time: The First 10 – Every Smile Counts
Within seconds, we were off. I was kind of caught off guard at how quickly the gun went off. I was probably in my layers up until 10 seconds before 7AM. Not complaining though, since I had not been looking forward to standing in 25-degree weather for very long. As always, everyone and their imaginary friends sprinted forward. Last time I checked, we were running a marathon, not a 5K! But I am known to get confused. I took in a deep breath and embraced the idea that I’d be running to California’s capitol for the next three hours plus, without talking to anyone.

After mile 1, I decided that I would smile every time I passed a mile marker. Studies have shown that even forced smiles in stressful situations can make you happier. Apparently, the husband does this at work when something’s not going well. Hopefully no one thinks he’s kind of a goof (even though he truly is, in a good way, of course)! As my Coach Dena Evans had told me, the game plan was to take the first 10 miles relaxed, the next 10 attentively – making sure to stay on pace – and the last 6.2 miles competitively. The first 10 miles went by pretty quickly, and I managed to stick to a 7:40-7:55 min/mi pace. I also visited each fluid station, placing right foot in front of left foot in a seemingly choreographed and mechanical way since the ground was slippery from spilled Powerade. I learned to hold the cups tightly, squeeze the rim, cover all but a small hole of the top, and pour quickly in my mouth. The only hiccup was that many of these fluids had a frozen layer due to the cold! Brr. Two dollar-Walgreens gloves save the day and keep my hands from freezing.

The Next 10: Breakdown Averted
Ten smiles in and another GU packet down, I felt strong and light like a feather. My yellow Oiselle arm warmers seemed to give me some superhero aerodynamic glide while my Walgreens accessories probably slightly diminished that status. I kept smiling every mile, but I began to forget to. I’d pass the mile marker and realize I had forgotten to smile, so then forced one on. And my pace was on track, roughly 7:50 min/mi. My spirits were up, but I did realize that I began to miss my family. Mile 16 was coming up fast, so I knew they’d be there – sister bundled up, toothy smile; mother donning a puffy jacket, jumping up and down in place; father with his yellow backpack running after me; and the husband behind the camera, snapping away with paparazii-like expertise. But as the mile 16 marker came and went, the family was nowhere to be seen. I know that spectating is no easy task; it takes careful planning, map-reading skills, good sense of orientation, skilled car maneuvering and parking spot hunting, and much, much more. I knew that I’d have to be OK with this fact, and that I’d have to refocus and stay strong; I’d see them at mile 25 again when it mattered the most anyway.

Like clouds parting, white doves soaring, and tulips blooming in full red, through nearly-frozen tears that had formed from the chill, I saw what seemed like in slow motion, the loves of my life appear right before my eyes. To the right, Papa Chang was in his signature, oversized blue jacket, running after me on the sidewalk as if he was suddenly racing; and Mama Chang was the most excited I had seen since last year when she danced circles at my wedding. To the left, Baby Sis was bundled up in my Oiselle runinfinity scarf, clapping cheerfully despite having little strength from a fight against winter bacterium; and the husband was clicking away behind the zoom lens, capturing what later turned out to be photos that are a thousand times better than the professional race photos (no offense).

Dad happier or me running

Mile 16.5: I think my dad wanted to race! Photo courtesy of Baby Chang

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Bundled up. Spectating is serious business.

A Mental Boxing Match Ensues
However, all good things do not last forever. The dreaded mile 20 approached – and wasn’t half bad. Hallucinations started where I began to mistaken “Go Trish Go” signs for “Go Mish Go” and six-foot-tall Caucasian men for my Chinese father. Whoops. Smiles were forgotten, GU packet did little, and the pace started slipping by mile 21. The dreaded 8:xx flashed and lingered on my Garmin no matter how fast I’d turnover my cold, red legs. It was still balmy – gloves still on. I had tossed my ear warmers miles back, and started to really sweat.

As if hallucinating wasn’t enough, I began hearing that devilish voice in my head: “Heeeeyyyy Misssshhhh. Just sloooowwww down, you can take it easy nowwwww. Just go with the flowwwww maaaan.” Then, of course, the fighter in me drowned out the other: “Finish strong! You can do this! You’ve trained so hard, for so long, now is NOT the time to give in! You are better than you think. Race!” The inevitable and all-too-familiar mental boxing match played out in my head for miles 21 to 24.5. I felt so out of it, that at mile 24.5, when the husband yelled out at me “You’ve got this, Michelle!” I barely recognized him and stared at him like a rabies-infected, possessed child. Fortunately, I snapped out of it and finally smiled.
IMG_2975 Not so happy at 24.5 mile. Look at that pretty face.

To the Finish: Another Slow-Motion Movie Moment
From the point I last saw the husband and my parents and sister at mile 26, all else was a blur. I have no idea how I made it from mile 24.5 to mile 26. Was I in pain? Probably. Did I want to walk? Probably. Was I cold? Absolutely. Did I imagine getting a massage stat? Duh. That’s the magic of the marathon. It’s joyously painful. I’m sure many-a-marathoner have imagined a “Chariots of Fire”-like movie scene from the final 0.2 miles of the race to the end.

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I actually had to do a double take on this guy. Pretty funny. Clearly, the husband was entertained. 

For me, it started right before the final left turn, where I spotted my parents and sister, screaming into my face. A sudden groundswell of energy swept me around the corner and down towards the finish chute. Classic Pops Chang decided to race me towards the finish, until I started angrily yelling at him in Mandarin, “不要跑!” or “Stop running!” because I didn’t want to get disqualified. I saw the clock at 3:28 and knew I had come out and accomplished what I had come to do. BQ achieved, PR earned.. Marathon complete with no fiascos. The tears flowed shortly after.

But first…

I felt like this:
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No that is not actually me.
And then of course I was thankful:

IMG_3568.JPG A sick sister who still came out to watch me run.

The Crew That Makes it Happen
I’m lucky I got to toe the startling line and finish the race while healthy, energetic, and  prepared. I’m even luckier to have had all the support out there from my dear family to the thousands of other spectators that braved the cold. Thanks especially to:
Oiselle: For the sponsorship and support as part of Team Volée and for the camaraderie of the run community and the family from all over the country and world. And a special shout out to Paulette, Ayesha, and Meghan who met up on Saturday, and ALL PR-ed. Huge!
GU & Superfeet: For producing top-of-the-line products that fuel and support athletes and keep us fired up and healthy.
Coach Dena: For the solid training strategy, words of constant wisdom, encouragement, and “surgical” planning to race in a smart way. You put that fire in my belly and pumped me up big time for this! You’re awesome!
Mom and Dad: For being always superstar parents, and cheerleading me from elementary school track meets to decades later. You’re my #1 fans and I’m yours.
Baby sis:  For dragging yourself out there, jeopardizing your weak immune system to help put a big/fat/stupid/sweaty smile on my face. It helped, as always. Next time I’ll be cheering you on.
The husband: For being downright amazing like whooooaaa. Partial evidence here:
bed jumping He’s good at calming my nerves pre-race.

So, What’s Next?
Rest and vacation, bitches! Guess where I’m off to??? Peace.

10 Things I’m Thankful For

Now that you’ve seen the lighter side of my run blog, I’ve hopefully gotten your attention to now read through some mushy, feel-good, more serious stuff that I’ve been thinking about.

I always try to remind myself throughout the year to be grateful for everything that I have, but like others, I am at fault for taking things for granted. In light of this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, I’m taking fingers to keyboard to type out the top 10 things that I’m thankful for when it comes to running.

10. My stomach is a non-stop hungry machine, and also made of steel.
I’m thankful that my parents were able to put a cornucopia of food on the table for me growing up. Raised by two Chinese immigrant parents, everything from fried and spicy foods, dumplings to hamburgers, Italian food, BBQ, and did I mention fried spicy foods were weekly items on the menu. As an avid traveler, by default I eat almost everything, and thankfully haven’t developed any food allergies. I do try to eat healthy local, sustainable foods, but as a runner, I love my iron-rich choices found in juicy steaks. And minus a few bouts of tummy problems this year, I am grateful for my strong stomach and ability to take in almost everything.

9. San Francisco is the perfect training grounds.
Though I have my opinions about the change overtaking SF neighborhoods and widening gap between rich and poor in the Bay, when it comes to running, I can’t be any happier. Hills, parks, lakes, tracks, and long stretches of road are a runner’s dream. We live in such a runner-friendly city, it’s no wonder you’ll literally run into hundreds of people along the Embarcadero or Great Highway on most weekend mornings. The cool temperatures – even fog – are an added plus.

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Dolores Park at 7:30AM. Views like these never get old.

8. Air travel, pilots (yes, even those on the hated United), and airports.
As some of you may know, I travel a lot for work. In fact, this year, I flew over 115,000 miles. And yes, that was mostly on United. I haven’t been home all month since February! I’m thankful that all my air travel has been safe, and that I’ve come back in one physical piece. I can’t quite say that to my mental state since I’ve learned to fully embrace zombie mode. One thing is for sure, I have yet to learn how to slay the metaphorical beast that takes the form of jet lag. Tips are highly welcome.

7. My work.
Related to air travel are the opportunities I get with my work thanks to the nature of my job and to the people who support me. As an international development professional, I travel to our field offices across Asia to work with our teams to help implement projects that can help poor communities thrive. This means visits to local partner organizations, talking with small business owners, meeting with government officials, attending networking dinners, and designing work plans. From Myanmar, Nepal, Indonesia to Mongolia, this year I have been able to work closely with our partners. I’ve also spent early mornings (roughly 5am) out on the streets pounding pavement. On foot I’ve been able to see the city wake and discover new sights, smells, and people. I’ve been able to run by temples, rice paddies, armed policemen, and monks giving alms. It’s a breathtaking way to explore a new land.

Here are just a few of my work travel photos from Myanmar, Nepal, and Thailand:
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6. The app developers, data wizards, and running crazies at Strava.
A data geek myself, I have been obsessed with uploading and sharing my daily workouts on the platform Strava for the past couple of years. I’m thankful that Strava exists so that I can view my pace, elevation gains, distances, weekly mileage, splits breakdown, and much more all the while cheering on my other “followers.” With occasional “challenges,” virtual “races,” and more robust features like the heat map, Strava has been keeping me honest and pushing me to be a better athlete. What’s more is that the people who work there are kickass runners who inspire and are darn smart! I’m thankful they’re around – and in SF! Check out my athlete page here and follow me!

5. Cross-training opportunities – in the realm of physical sports, creativity, and home décor.
My life would be unfulfilled, empty, and downright pathetic if I ran 12 hours a day, stared at my Garmin, and went to bed without talking to anyone. Thankfully, my day job and other hobbies, friends, and interests keep me entertained, busy, and challenged. I’m thankful that I am 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, where I’ve taken up standup paddle boarding as a great way to exercise my core and upper body. Plus, who doesn’t love surfing with dolphins? I’m thankful to be surrounded by a tight knit community of kite surfers, who constantly watch my back while I’m in the water as I timidly “mow the lawn” and occasionally jump 50 feet up in the air (OK fine, 3 feet. Feels like 50). Apart from the physical sports, I’m thankful to still have the fire to take on new projects – as simple as interior décor, movie making with the GoPro, painting, and gardening. I can’t do it alone; it’s the inspiration around me that keeps me motivated.

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This past weekend I took some photos of my friends SUPing. Photograph young men surfing? Sure, why not.

I also managed to dig up some GoPro footage from a Mexican holiday vacation last year and put together this short movie.

4. The women runners who inspire, lead, and find the potential in others.
I am grateful I have found a team in the ladies at Oiselle. From Sally Bergesen, CEO and founder of Oiselle and a freaking fast marathoner to the always inspirational and “keeping’ it real” Lauren Fleshman, to my Team Volee runners across the country, I am thankful I can surround myself with badass, dedicated runners who believe in each other. They motivate, support, comfort, and entertain to help me to constantly think about self improvement.  If it wasn’t for Oiselle, I definitely would not look as cute while running. I’m thankful for my coach Dena Evans, who is an expert leader in the field of coaching runners – training elites to the recreational runner (I’m somewhere in between).

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Recent race last weekend, decked out in some of my Oiselle race gear. Want to buy some apparel as gifts or time to treat yourself for the holidays? Talk to me or check out http://www.oiselle.com.

3. I’m still young in my mind and have much of my health.
Stupidly or brilliantly, my mind still thinks it’s 2007. I think I’m still in my 20s and college was only a few years ago. I’ll run, jump and crash land in bed, swan dive on my face in the bay, or land tail bone first as I’m trying to do one-legged squats on the balance board. Except, news flash, I’m not 21 and invincible anymore. Nevertheless, I have my “I’m too old for this” and “But it’s 9:30pm and past my bedtime” moments. I don’t drink myself silly every night, and the next day’s sore back reminds me I can’t bounce back as quickly as I could have back in 2007. Yet I’m thankful I have my health and can run 60 miles a week and travel the world. And fool myself into thinking I could get into new hobbies like parkour.

2. A husband, sister, mom and dad, and friends.
He’s not just a husband, but also a chef, my most vocal cheerleader, alarm clock, paparazzi, doctor, nutritionist, and driver. She’s not just my younger sister, but also my partner in crime when it comes to sushi, shopping, and silliness. My parents are my #1 fans, logistics coordinators (drop off, pick ups, parking, hotel bookings) and supporters. My friends put up with my crazy addiction to the sport; early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedules; superfluous posts about races on FB; and constant stink of me in my workout clothes. I’m grateful I’m surrounded by people who continue to stick around.🙂

And last but not least….

1. I’m thankful for the supportive run community across the globe and back again.

I can’t go without mentioning the throngs of runners and NON-RUNNERS who keep the sport accessible, fun, safe, and affordable for most. Of course, Boston was a nightmare so many had to live through and continue to live with, but it also brought out the strength and pride of Bostonians, Americans, spectators, volunteers, policemen, medical professionals, and so many others across the globe. Chad Stafko’s article in the Wall Street Journal last week might have angered many runners, but in an unanticipated way, it gave so many voices an opportunity to share to the world WHY they run and why it matters. The community is unbelievable – both online and offline. We all have our reasons for running – some more personal than others – but we’ve banded together as a single community to help each other become the best that we can be. I’m thankful for that.

What are you thankful for when it comes to running?

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sitting down with Jon Stewart to talk about running

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<Note that the interview footage is still being edited by the show’s producers so I only have the transcript to share at the moment.>

Jon Stewart: A marathon is a long time to not talk to anyone. What goes on in your head? Dying? Pooping? What you’re going to serve alongside the cous cous for dinner?

Me: Jon, that’s a good question. A lot of people ask me that. Honestly, you hit the nail on the head. I pretty much think about all of that. Most of the time, I start with thoughts on work and my to-dos. A third of the way through my run, I start thinking about eating. Then immediately my stomach turns and I start thinking about a bathroom break. Eventually that goes away and my mind kind of lets go and I focus on hitting my splits. Then I start to think about stupid crap like “Did I water the house plant this week?” or “I wonder why continental breakfast is called continental.”

JS: Good question back atcha. What IS a continental breakfast? Is it American food minus Alaskan and Hawaiian cuisine??

MC: Er, no. Read this informative article off Slate.

JS: OK back to the subject of running. You’ve been racing a lot this season. How’s that going for you?

MC: It’s going well! I’ve raced in a few half marathons this year and a few shorter races – both on the roads and on trails. I really should get out on trails more. The scenery is tough to beat, especially out here in the Bay! A couple weekends ago, I ran in a half marathon race and finished second in my age group and seventh overall. That was killer. But I still need to work on my speed. My legs don’t turn over fast enough. My key race though is December 8 – the California International Marathon! It’ll be my fourth.

JS: Wow, your fourth!

MC: Yeah, I think the older you get, the better you get at long distance running. At least I think that’s the case with my legs. Somehow I can keep at a rather decent pace for longer mileage these days.

JS: You’re crazy.

MC: Not as crazy as those ultra runners out there. Big respect for them.

JS: Well OK. But let’s talk serious now. If the heads of the G8 squared off in a road race, who do you think would win? Let’s say Obama, Putin, Abe, and Cameron are out there toeing the starting line.

MC: Oh boy. Did Obama quit smoking? Cameron probably not…though the Brits are pretty good at athletics. I have no idea where Putin would run, isn’t it cold back in Moscow like 24/7?? Abe might have a good shot. Given the pretty small odds that one of these guys reads my blog, I’m going to have to give it to…drum roll…President Obama. I’m pretty sure he quit smoking. And he’s pretty tall and lean.

JS: That’s just a safe answer!

MC: Well…

JS: What’s after the marathon? Will you be writing a book?

MC: Ha! Now that would be funny. Unlike most of your other admirable guests on your show, I am neither an actor, politician, nor author. I think I’ll keep to my blog. And running with my Oiselle teammates and helping out Christy Turlington Burns’ charity, Every Mother Counts. I’m logging my miles on an iPhone app called CharityMiles to donate money to help end preventable deaths caused by childbirth around the world.

JS: Christy Turlington Burns, the Calvin Klein model and wife of Edward Burns?

MC: Yes! She’s a huge fan of Oiselle! Cool, eh?

JS: Final question. Can I run with you?

MC: <Blushing>. I didn’t think you’d ask. Yes, please! Though if you’re telling jokes left and right I don’t know how much running I can really do!

JS: That’s my plan…heh heh heh.

And now ladies and gentlemen…your moment of zen.

Ok. So I didn’t really get interviewed by Jon Stewart, but my mind has quite an imagination. I’ll be “interviewed” by guest celebrities every month so check back in December for another hopefully entertaining piece! And hopefully by then my Photoshop skills will have improved (Thanks, JJ).

Taking Flight in New Hues

In this past weekend’s race – also my 14th half marathon to date – I proudly donned a mix of poppy, baby blue, grey, and yellow on my back and around my hips. These hues represent the fierce and feminine force of a group of talented women at a women’s running apparel company, Oiselle (pronounced wah-zel, meaning “female bird” in French). I, among dozens of other like-minded runners across the country, make up Team Oiselle. You’ll see us running and flying down roads, trails, tracks, and treadmills with courage, speed, fight, and determination. And with fun and adventure glowing in our eyes, because after all, we love exploring new routes, getting sweaty, and kicking up dirt!

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The “PBE” or “poppy blur effect.” Trying, at least. Thanks for the cool pic, pops!

As I’ve matured as a runner and athlete, I’ve also become pickier about what I eat, how much I sleep, what shoes I buy, and what I wear. The rationale is a conglomeration of parts: part-aging, part-ritual, part-habit, part-obstinance, and part-wisdom. Over 50 races behind me, I know what works and what makes me perform – even if it means putting up with “side effects.” For example,  the week leading up to a race I withhold cheese, coffee, and cocktails from my diet, risking minor headaches and borderline depression (half joking). I’m in bed before 10pm so am sure to start “Homeland” no later than 9. If my credit card is stolen and is swiped at a Zappos or Fleet Feet, my bank won’t even bat an eye. And next time you see a girl running hill repeats in a pinkish long-sleeved top with birds on it, that’s an Oiselle runner you’re seeing out there.

You know that saying, “Look good, feel good”? Well, it actually does mean something. Oiselle’s founder, Sally Bergesen, is committed to the fact that “fashion needs more muscles, and sport needs more fashion.” Well, to fill that need, Oiselle has brought to the marketplace and running community a set of high performance, photo-worthy, curl-up-on-the-couch comfort, and long-lasting, smell-good apparel for anyone running in southern California weather to Swiss Alps temperatures. It matters to me that the clothing I wear for nearly 10 hours per week out in the elements is built with running, activity, and speed in mind. The run + fashion chemistry that makes Oiselle what it is is a rare find, so I’m glad I found Oiselle, and Oiselle found me.

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Lauren Fleshman aka fleshmanflyer joined me for a shakeout run in Woodside pre-race, after having only gotten inducted into Stanford Athletic’s Hall of Fame the night before. And clearly, we’re happy gals sportin’ our fly Oiselle apparel.

This past Sunday, I raced in my new singlet at the Rock ‘n Roll San Jose Half Marathon. I ran my fastest half this season (1:37, three minutes off my PB) despite having been on the road in Asia for work about three months out of the entire year so far (lots of treadmill workouts, which does not translate to proper road training). Coach Dena and I have only been working together for a couple weeks, but she pumped me up for the race, laid out my race plan, and even got me into the VIP, elite “break room” at the Fairmont on race morning. Though I had my moments when pain reached new levels and I wanted to slow to a jog, the competition in me would not subside.

At mile nine, I gave my evil cramps and fatigue the metaphorical middle finger, reminding myself that today was my one-year wedding anniversary and that I was going to give this race all I had even if it meant that my race photos would turn out hideous (successfully achieved). So, I ran and ran the flat roads of downtown San Jose – the antithesis of my training grounds in San Francisco – and crossed the finish line in what I’ve now coined, “in PBE, or poppy blur effect.” It was far from the race of my life, and I have a lot to work on with Coach Dena, but it was another one for the books – and as a new team runner for Oiselle. Anyway, finishing meant that there were only two items left on the day’s agenda: dim sum with the parents and celebrating with the Mr. that we love this thing called marriage.

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A sweaty but fulfilling snapshot post-race, and later that night, at Frascati in SF with the Mr. for an unforgettable meal!

In the remaining months of 2013, I’ll be gearing up for CIM. Thanks to the fam, husband, Coach Dena, and my teammates for getting me this far.  I’ve gotten through my past three marathons just fine, but this time, I’m going to fly.

Adventures on Foot: From Myanmar to Minnesota

(I wrote this earlier this week while I was sitting on the porch, overlooking the lake in the BWCA. Sadly, I’ve since returned to my fluorescent-lit cubicle).

Humming birds, ripples of water on the lake shore, and rustling leaves have now replaced the car horns, shrieks of “change money?!” and crowded streets of Yangon. Overlooking Poplar Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, I now finally have a chance to write down some of my recent adventures on foot in two of my favorite places: Myanmar and Minnesota.

Myanmar

I’ve had the good fortune of being flown off to Myanmar for work three times in the past five months. With stays nearing two-months long now, I’ve not only explored the towering government buildings and golden pagodas, but also the city of Yangon at dawn before it wakes.

Wherever I am – San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Portland, or Yangon – I don’t truly discover a place until I run on the streets. It may be that I yearn for that feeling of familiar and home, so take the chance of running for hours on end to sometimes get lost. Either way, it’s at first a stressful undertaking that becomes a 100% fulfilling and educating way to come to know a place.

On most days, at 5:30am, I’d head out with my handy Flashlight app on my iPhone and Garmin watch to join the dozens of Burmese practicing outdoor aerobics to the music blaring out of 1988 Panasonic RX5030 boom boxes. I was never alone. Alone, maybe, in that I was one of two runners, but never alone exercising at that early hour. Past Shwedagon Pagoda under a still-moonlit sky of leftover monsoon clouds I’d go, rounding the bend to food stall owners turning on their gas-powered lanterns to prepare for sales of mohingas to passerbyers. One morning, I left my hotel with the resolve to tackle 16 miles in the 97% humidity. Part of my route included two laps around Kandawgyi Lake and another two around People’s Park and its environs. The smartest thing I did that day aside from going out slow was bringing a bottle of water with me, hiding it behind a tree during the first circles, and taking water breaks during the second go-arounds. Not only did I feel the stares of “Who is this lunatic in neon pink who looks like she just fell in a pool” but also “Is she drinking some random bottle of water she just found on the street?” Clearly, I can’t help but think of silly thoughts when I run while also soaking up (literally in sweat form) the waking city that was under military rule for nearly 50 years until only two years ago.

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I completed that run and rewarded myself with a breakfast buffet feast that lasted as long as the run itself. Other outdoor runs preceded and followed this one, and each one gave me a colorful and vibrant view of this city that I’ve come to know.

 

Minnesota

About 36 hours after touching down in SFO, I found myself being stared down by a moose, red foxes, and mid-westerners (in the most friendly way). Talk about a change in scenery! Canoes have replaced Toyotas, bird calls for taxi drivers, cotton ball clouds and azure skies for monsoon rains, trees for pagodas, and fishing vests for traditional longyis. 

ImageAlso my third time in Minnesota, I relearn to speak the language of desolation wilderness, backcountry camping, and handling of lures versus leeches. I also have powered down my MacBook, iPhone, and alarm clock, and slowed to the pace that Mother Nature intends. Yet, sitting still – I cannot! Last time I was in the BWCA, I was in a boot, handicapped from a kitesurfing accident that had sent me to the ER. Yet, I along with my then boyfriend, now husband, managed a five-day canoe-portage-camping trip in the lakes. This time, I’m thankful to be healthy, and running. The Gunflint Trail and dirt roads offer pure serenity, with nothing in sight except for pancake flat lakes, trees, and mosquitos. On Tuesday, I ventured on a 10-miler across a few lakes and out into Hungry Jack campground, where the YMCA is nestled in back. I’ve seen a red fox and a bunny on my runs, and can’t wait to see what else jumps out at me. Post-runs have mainly consisted of coffee and a book, but at times, a sauna and lake swim are in order. 

ImageFrom Myanmar to Minnesota and back, my Lunarglides have hit hundreds of miles of betel nut-soaked asphault and overgrown trails. What amazes me every time I run here, there, or somewhere, is not my resolve to tackle another training run, but the infinite sights, smells, and people I see along the way. In some special way, I become closer to the land in my quest for mileage and training. And without hesitation, these places keep giving back. I just hope my little legs can keep turning over for many more years to come.

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Small races, big wins

Rock ‘n Roll. Boston Marathon. Nike Women’s Marathon. These and other races of similar size are likely familiar to recreational and professional runners, and even to non-runners as well. In any given year, I probably participate in a couple of these 10,000 plus runner races, walking blindly through the expo mazes, trapped without light or clock in some convention center or old warehouse. These expos remind me of a Las Vegas hotel casino for runners but with running shoes, the latest high-tech apparel, and massage therapists substituting for slot machines and blinking neon lights. While many of these races are built upon legacy, historic courses, large purse awards, or new personal record opportunities, they don’t necessarily fulfill in other categories.

Unlike these colossal event companies that put on races with five-figure budgets, smaller races have the ability to band together an intimate number of local running groups, weekend warriors, amateur and even professional runners, and families out on the roads and trails for a fun, lower-key morning. For me, smaller races are an opportunity to connect with the local community that shares a similar commitment to being healthy, active, and outdoors. It’s a chance for me to race in a less high-pressure environment, where race participants hover in the hundreds. Smaller, locally-run races can also help me work on my speed and interval training. I learn to push myself because it’s not as an intimidating environment, and in the back of my mind, I know I have a real chance of making it on that podium – a typically rare occurrence  At the end of the day, smaller races give me a chance to be a part of a group in what can typically end up being a solitary pursuit in the form of just another regular workout or a massive 10,000-strong stampede.

Last weekend, I ran in a 4.5-miler race put on by San Francisco’s oldest running club, the Dolphin South End Runner’s Club, or DSE (their team motto is “Start slowly and taper off.” How awesome is that?!). I decided to join the group the day before, mainly because I was disappointed with my poor performance the weekend before at the SF Marathon (second half), and wanted to rebuild my confidence. When I got to Lake Merced and began talking with the other running club members and race participants, something reignited for me. I had run with these men and women before, and the sweeping rush of camaraderie started to reenter my body. As a competitive runner, I often times put my pace, cadence, calories, and course at center stage and all else pushed far into the corners of my skull. Yet it’s not always about hitting your new personal best or mile markers. This race invigorated me not only because I happened to win the women’s division, but because this DSE race reminded me that there’s a lot more to running than just running.

I’m also lucky to have a hubby who supports me along the race route wherever I’m running. This was no exception. If you just skimmed my Monday morning ramble, the least you can do is watch this video that the Arod put together in a whopping 10 minutes. And yes, those people running with strollers with kids strapped in are speed demons! Thanks, DSE for a fun race! Looking forward to seeing you guys out there more often. And Happy July!