Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Big Cottonwood Marathon

Motivation isn’t something that comes naturally. As an educator, one of the largest challenges I face is realizing we cannot teach motivation. How then have I become motivated, driven to achieve my goals? The beautiful thing about motivation is that it can become part of our character. By observing and learning from those who succeed, we begin to believe the possibility that we can also succeed. No path to success is ever a straight line. There will be obstacles to overcome. There will be moments of failure. But when you remind yourself daily what is your motivation, you never live a day without excitement. Life with all its blessings and challenges then becomes an adventurous journey of a lifetime.

Big Cottonwood became a huge spotlight race for many runners. How fast can one go with the assistance of a dramatically downhill course was the question on many runner's minds. The race started at approximately 9,500' elevation and dropped about 5,000' within the first 18 miles. Sounds easy enough; however, no distance or course should ever be taken for granted. Many runners were shaken by how difficult those last 8 miles actually felt like after 18 miles of quad crushing downhill, myself included. After reaching my 100th marathon this summer, I asked myself the same question: how fast can I go at Cottonwood? Now running for over half my life for 15 wonderful years, I have learned to appreciate all the good moments and the, well, interesting moments. On my 25th birthday four years ago, I decided that I would not live in regret or catch myself saying: "someday" or "I wish." Instead, I would tell myself: "I will do this to achieve this by this time." If it is important to me, I will find a reason to do everything possible to give it importance in my life that included marriage, family, work, and running. I will not allow an excuse created by my own self stop me from achieving what I set my mind to. Therefore, in regards to running, I picked up my training discipline dramatically beginning after my 25th birthday in 2009. UCLA undergrad and grad school were well completed and all paid for, my teaching profession was already in its fourth year, and I was blessed to find a man who loves me intensely. It was time to stop struggling through my marathons. It was time to take my marathon training to the next level and begin training for my first triathlon leading up to an Ironman. For the past four years, it has taken endless hours of sacrifice, reading, training, and time managing to train myself to get faster and faster every year in distances from the 5K to the marathon up to the Ironman. For what? For the thrill of my journey. When I am out there on a run or a race, I feel so alive like I could simply fly. Anyone who has ever hit a personal record in anything knows that feeling. It is pretty darn awesome. Nothing else matters just that moment that I am living at that second. It took four years of healthy lifestyle changes to drop the 20 of the 30lbs I gained in college and self training to drop my marathon time to 3:16:05 in the 2013 LA Marathon and my Ironman to a 12:34:08 at the 2011 IMAZ. After running my marathon PR in LA earlier this year as the 3rd leg of 3 marathons in 3 consecutive weeks after Phoenix and Catalina Marathons, the firing question haunted my mind: How much faster could I really go if I targeted the marathon? Only one way to find out was spend the summer training and target a fall marathon. 

2013 Big Sur Marathon #97 w/my Dad  (photo: Chris)
Training was unfolding nicely up until the Big Sur Marathon #97. Anyone close to my heart knows this past May was by far the most difficult emotional month of my life. I learned what true heartbreak and loss felt like. I, for the first time, felt like I had died inside. I spent endless hours in tears in my family's arms or my friend's arms and falling deeper into this loss that I couldn't bear taking another breath. Work became difficult. Running wasn’t the same. My life isn't always all flowers and smiles. It's been filled with struggles that have changed me but they have taught me important lessons. I aim to remain positive to help strengthen me through struggles. They've made me grateful for what I have and always place value on what is important to me. Day by day, I tried to keep running but couldn't with such deep emotional pain. My father came to me and said: “Cachito, I will go with you to Big Sur and run with you.” I went hoping a race would give me some comfort. It didn't. I was in better running shape than I was for the LA Marathon, but my broken heart couldn't go. I walked 4 miles with my dad crying feeling lost. It was a day I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up. My dad encouraged me and said, “No llores, mija. I'm here for you so go get that finish.” I walked into the finish in 3:35 and immediately went into Bart Yasso's arms crying. It was the first time in my life where I couldn't physically push myself because of emotional pain. Bart texted me later some very encouraging words reminding me to keep pushing forward. 

Left broken pinkie (photo: Ijaz)
Returning home, I went to the trails, a place where I find my most peace and clarity. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention emotionally distraught and took a very bad tumble right on my left knee onto a boulder causing my knee to swell and be immovable for 2 weeks. I removed myself from the OC Marathon. I couldn't run. Fortunately, I recover and heal astonishingly fast even to shock most doctors. I attribute it to partly genes; more importantly, lifestyle choices help me remain committed to my strong health. I was back to jogging two weeks later. However, life just seemed to be testing me further because then on an evening out, I jammed my left pinkie toe so hard fracturing it--the day before the Mountains to Beach Marathon. I knew better but the stubborn side of me ran it. The summer then proceeded “running” some of my most painful marathons in physical and emotional pain over an hour slower: Mountains to Beach #98, Rock'n Roll SD #99, and SFM #100. I didn't run a day in between; however, finally, after SFM, I was cleared to officially run again. Again, life decided to test me: my paternal grandfather passed away losing his battle against cancer, the same cancer that struck my dad two years earlier. I had never seen the man I grew up seeing as the strongest man alive break down so much. I love my parents so much that it frightens me to think one day they won't be there anymore. Again, this fear makes me value life more on a daily basis. Even though money was tight, my father and I flew to Ecuador to run the Quito Marathon #101 at 9000' elevation in 3:51 to honor my grandfather. My legs were finally coming back to me and my heart was reaching closure. Rest in peace Abuelito Miguel. 

Horseback riding at 12,000' in Quito, Ecuador
I returned home with a refreshed outlook and reminded myself what truly is important to me: to treasure the life we have and do everything possible to live happy with the ones we love because tomorrow is never, ever promised. It's our responsibility to give ourselves the life we love. There is this amazing quote I remind myself from time to time that it is our responsibility to find our extraordinary. Not be inadequate in what we do but discover we are powerful beyond measure. Back to the trails I went day after day focusing for one good month on Pikes Peak. Race day came and I was grateful to have pushed to improve 1hr 37min on that course to finish in 7:10 for marathon #102. America's Ultimate Challenge delivered. 

Next, Big Cottonwood #103. After PPM, I had one month to easy back safely into speed work and try to salvage any speed lost after the summer's falls, fractured pinkie, and heartbreak of loss. Training kicked off. The hunger to improve returned. Race day, I knew exactly how much speed I had recovered after analyzing my training plan the previous four weeks; but, sometimes, we deviate from our strategy. The race began and I aimed to tread as lightly as possible down the steep incline. Heat rate kicked up dramatically by the 5K so I needed to mentally calm myself down. By the 10K, a couple runners halted to a walk. My legs felt pretty heavy already. By the halfway mark in 1:33, I knew I was in for some trouble and would need to really dig deep for the pain I would need to pay for going out too fast even with the downhill. There are statistical formulas to show that for every second you think you "bank" in the first half, you pay for in two-three fold or more. There is no such thing as "banking" if you want to run your strongest, smartest race on the majority of courses out there. Sure enough by Mile 18 when the downhill ended, the lead-filled legs sure didn't want to go anymore. Runners left and right were slowing down or coming to a stop. Runner's faces in that last 10K were not too pleasant. But I knew that pain... it felt like the dead legs of the marathon at the end of an Ironman. What did I do? I shifted from a forced shuffle and alternate walking till the end passing about 50 runners in that last "flat" stretch of 8 miles. It wasn't pretty but I was grateful to have my husband waiting for me open arms at the finish as I crossed my 103rd marathon finish line to celebrate my 29th birthday in 3:20:40.


I went from finishing marathons in 4:30s in May and June when I stopped training for 1-2 months to 3:50s in July back to 3:20 at Big Cottonwood. Am I lucky to run as relatively fast as I do? No. I have to work for it. If I don't, I slow down and don't see the results I want. Is my life one straight arrow immune to drama? No. Life happens. However, running has taught me to roll with it. When times get tough, I need to be tougher. Big Cottonwood is the beginning of my fall season. I've taken my training back to the trails where I am most at peace. I am beginning to increase my mileage slightly and aim to be a stronger trail runner taking my long runs to local peaks such as Baldy, Gorgonio, Wilson, and Sequoia. I was able to get myself back into 3:20 shape in about one month of speed work even after walking 1min every mile during that last 10K having shot quads. I see each month as a new opportunity to work towards my goals. Each day is a new opportunity to value our journey. I have many blessings in my life and I am grateful for them. I also recognize how much work needs to be put into something I really value. Life will throw at you the most soul shaking challenges, but it will make you stronger. I choose to treasure each day and love this life with all its twists and turns. Running has given me this gift. To value life daily. Remain dedicated to your goals, remind yourself daily what is your motivation, and you will achieve your highest dreams. Everyday is an opportunity for adventure.

Till the next one.... Chicago Marathon and next my first trail 50M.

Big Cottonwood #103
Results Summary: 
3:20:40 (7:38 av.pace)
Fastest: 6:30 - Mile 3
Slowest: 10:00 - Mile 24
Half splits 1:32/1:47
4th in Division (F25-29)
22nd Female Overall of 733
120th Overall of +1,300

Marathon Stats:
15th 2013 marathon
18th sub-4 state
53rd Boston Qualifier
72nd sub-4 marathon
103rd marathon total

Memorable 2013 Marathons
Running with An Angel 3:38, 2nd FOA
Catalina Trail Marathon 3:59, 4th FOA
LA Marathon 3:16:05 *PR
Boston Marathon 3:21:17 *course PR
Pikes Peak Marathon 7:10:46 *course PR

Marathon Results
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  1. You passed me in the dust on the 50k in Ft. Worth, about my 25 and your 30m. That very much inspired me, then to come find your blog was pretty amazing in an of itself, your lead an inspiring life and i will tweet you when i am next in Southern California :) good luck on a fantastic year of huge achievements. I just hope to finish my first Ironman in Wisconsin this fall.


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