The high of the SF Marathon 5K is still slowly fading, but the excitement and energy it brought to me are still very palpable. It’s taken me some time to truly gather my thoughts and it sparked a new flame that is stoking an existing fire. To be perfectly honest, the whole thing — from training to racing to what I am feeling in the wake of it — moved me in ways I did not anticipate.
STROLLER RUNNING: IT’S NOT JUST “RUNNING WITHOUT ARMS.”
First things first, before I get into how the race went down: I want to clarify what it means to run pushing a beast of burden. If all you care about is race day, I get it and we can still be friends, just scroll on down!
When it comes to “can’t do without items” on this mother runner’s list, as my recent wordy review might indicate, our BOB takes the cake. While I can’t say exactly, unfortunately, how many miles mini, our Revolution PRO and I have logged, but I CAN say that stroller running different. Whether putting in specific pace and distance training, or just to get home from the park as quickly as possible mid-toddler-meltdown, it’s unlike any running I’ve ever done before. Once I spotted a mother runner’s post online where her partner quipped her run memoir could be called Running Without Arms. While it’s accurate to an extent, I believe running with my arms strapped to my sides would be easier in many respects!
Anyone who says stroller running is just like running clearly has never done it for more than a few strides while mom/dad/auntie/whoever fixed their shoe or retrieved a lost toy. It’s not the same as running. It’s not the same as strength training. It’s both and neither all the same. Stroller running is very much its own entity.
What I posted on Instagram to commemorate my very first postpartum and first BOB run. October 2015 sure feels like a long time ago!
When BOB reached out to me to see if I was interested in participating in the SF Marathon 5K, an event that allows strollers in the back of the final corral, as part of a stroller team there was only one answer in my mind: YES!
However, I had only ever run one stroller race, and it was both small and not crowded. Would I be able to make it?
Thankfully, we had some seriously solid training plans laid out for us by “the Flying Flower,” or as she may currently be known, “That Pregnant Runner,” Olympian Alysia Montaño. Every week for five weeks, she posted daily workouts for us to follow. I would be lying if I said I didn’t modify workouts, or if I didn’t fess up that I had to take more breaks than I planned some days. These workouts were a challenge for runners of every level, but add a 30lb stroller, 5lbs+ of park snacks and water for two, and a 30lb kid plus who or what she demands as her buddy for the day, and even ‘easy’ training days turned into a challenge.
However, the training sure made us STRONG for race day!
Sadly, my training got derailed after the first weeks by a pretty bad infection I didn’t know I was fighting. By the time I started realizing it wasn’t just fatigue, stress or not fueling properly, I started to also realize something was really wrong. I wound up essentially taking myself to urgent care not a moment too soon and spent the next two weeks–including the last weeks of training and race day–on two different antibiotics. It made it really clear to me that I had been so caught up in working full time, trying to keep up with the stressful workload, balance being a mom, a partner, having a household I was trying desperately not to leave 100% to said partner to care for… It’s horrible that having an infection that literally took me down was what it took for me to realize I was purposely burning the candle from every angle and somehow telling myself it was okay, that I could come through the other side unscathed. That “No, I’ll do it” mentality came with a high cost.
Thus, I tried to get back on the wagon in those final two weeks. Two antibiotics twice daily for two weeks isn’t anyone’s idea of a great time but it was far superior to laying on the soothingly cool bathroom floor, praying the horrible feelings would go away on their own. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but at least I felt like my brain was reconnected to my body. The clarity I felt mentally because my body was getting the help fighting that it needed was immense. I knew my training wouldn’t be what I had hoped, but I made the most of what was left, sweating, practicing turns, fartleking, and generally trying to make sure I didn’t make a complete ass of myself on race day.
Easier said that done, always.
THE PRE-RACE MEET-UP
For once, I actually made it to the PRO Compression ambassador meet-up hosted with We Run Social. Not only did I actually make it and see and hug some run friends, mister and mini came too!
Too many awesome people to tag them all! Photo: @PROCompression Instagram feed.
Truly, I was tickled and surprised when he said he would come with us. (See? He’s the one on the left in the “No Meat Athlete” shirt! Mini is clearly the one in the stroller with her ever-present monkey.) We enjoyed a leisurely walk to Fort Mason on a nice sunny, breezy day. Mini had never been to the city, so it was fun for her to see all the different people, “car, loud car!” cars and buses, all the sights and smells along the way.
She totally scored, too. It was my girl Ashley’s birthday weekend. Not only was she getting ready to run the SF Marathon, she lovingly got Kara’s Cupcakes for the meet-up, and she made sure to get something special for me and my family, and for Paula and Dave’s son Asher too! She showed up with amazing Mariposa whoopie pies (which I ate both of and have zero shame about it) and a chocolate-drizzled banana chocolate chip muffin. Mini happily ate the top and made a mess of herself, so I think she’s okay with going to future meet-ups if they all go down like that.
RACE DAY COMETH
Before I knew it, all my alarms were going off and I was loading a still-asleep (thank goodness!) mini into the car Sunday morning. If I said felt great about how the racing portion of race day would go as I drove out to the city, I would be a huge liar. Knowing I was running with seriously strong, badass women who clock sub-8s on the regular while pushing kids and doling out snacks was intimidating, especially since my training was sub-par. Coming down from the new half marathon PR high early in the year to not knowing how I’d fare in a summer, stroller-pushing 5K can do a number on a gal’s confidence. Mentally I made a note to just make the most of it. I got to run with Paula, which has been something I’ve wanted to do for ages. My run friend Jess was coming out with her daughter to run too. And uh, yeah, I got to line up with an Olympian — so really, even if race day was a big fail, there were big wins to count still.
It was unlike any other race day I have ever had. This see-it-to-believe-it video produced by Louis Montaño sums up our pre-race swagger perfectly!
The pre-race photos with the BOB Team went surprisingly smooth, considering half the team was literally comprised of small humans — and they usually have their own agenda. There were no meltdowns during the pictures, plenty of helping hands (thanks to everyone who fetched or rescued monkey every time mini booted her from the stroller!) and a whole lot of coordinated, “Okay, on three we’re going hoods down! Ready?” to make it all happen. The end result felt pretty magical.
But that was just the beginning.
I am quite certain there was a 50/50 split in folks who recognized Alysia as a famous runner, and folks who thought she was one hell of a badass pregnant lady pushing a toddler. As we walked over to the back of the fourth corral at the 5K and waited for everyone else to line up, a magical and strange thing happened: people started lining up to take pictures OF us and with us (mostly Alysia, and I’m fine with that!) We were creating a buzz, we had a clear presence, but damn: we were ready to run.
A few beautiful highlights of an all-stroller parent team:
- Zero apologies for what we all knew as “normal.” (See monkey fetching, above.)
- Being mid-conversation with a mama pre-start when she started breastfeeding her son with the same air one might adjust their hat or tie their shoes.
- Snack-sharing and “line of sight”-ing — i.e. here, watch my kiddo while I disappear from the line of sight momentarily to hit the port-o-potty I don’t want tiny hands inside.
- No f’s given about middle of the sidewalk but out of the way standing diaper changes post-race (that one was me.)
- The unsaid agreement that no matter how race day went down, we were there to make a positive statement about what it means to be a stroller runner.
HOW’D THE RACE REALLY GO?
Well, I’m in two camps, and really, that’s a result of being both a seasoned runner and a Title 9K-er (who, for lack of a better term, was “raised” seeing Title 9K’s two dedicated stroller divisions as “normal.”) Thus, part of why it took me so long to finally post this recap is because I had to calm-the-f-down first. (See ‘What didn’t go well’ below.)
What went well:
- Mini and I had A BLAST. Well, I definitely did, and she was smiling and laughing, and she napped hard when we got home, so I think we both had a good time.
- I didn’t DNS, DNF, bonk and pass out on the course, or cause a giant pile-up. Phew!
- No one got run over (at least, not by me.)
- Mini didn’t have a breakdown and we didn’t lose anyone important. (Note I said anyone, not anything. Did you notice in the video, she’s clutching monkey? Monkey is important.)
- We basically made history. Stroller team = no one will NOT notice you lining up.
- We were not just a sideshow, a novelty, a team for the sake of show. The BOB Team SF runners who managed to get out of the pack before it absorbed them clocked easy sub-30 5Ks, a respectable time for anyone NOT pushing a stroller, and a very respectable stroller 5K time. (Both of these time statements are my personal opinion.)
What didn’t go well:
- Lost a bib magnet and there were zero pictures of us. I’m mad because I stuck to the rules and wore my bib as per usual, instead of putting it on the hood of the BOB, which meant the number was blocked by the stroller, and thus there’s no photo evidence within the SF Marathon photo offerings by bib that I can claim as my own. During the race I also managed to lose one of my skull and crossbones Race Dots. I combed the whole stroller hoping it just got stuck to the frame, but no, I went home with four backs and three fronts. Thankfully they’re awesome, so I’m going to email them to replace it. (This isn’t an ad. I just love my Race Dots.) Both of these things though were the least of my concerns.
- My pacing. That’s no one’s problem but mine, but the two weeks of dying of infection seriously showed up in the first mile. I went out too hard trying to not get caught in the pack, and as a result, struggled to stay out of the pack for most of the race. Thus, really, the only injury coming out of this race was my bruised ego.
- Course movement. I have run tiny races and big races, but I have never, ever run a road race before where basically the entirety is restricted to a single car lane of traffic. All four corrals of 5K participants were so stuck together that some of us had our watches time out as we finally crossed over the first timing mats. It’s like our GPS knew we weren’t running yet and decided to just tap out.
- Race etiquette. This is my one big gripe. I knew I was going to have to weave. I knew people would poo-poo strollers being out there at all, and I was ready to endure comments, snarky remarks, etc. from others on the course. My biggest mistake was assuming that everyone approaches race day with the same mindset that I do. It was apparently incredibly foolish of me to think that participants who had music on would have it at a level where they could hear others, to think that yelling very loudly “Coming up on your left! Stroller coming! On your left, on your left!” would elicit a desired reaction, or that people who wanted to walk would stay to the right to let faster participants pass on the left.
See, the thing is, I do get it. I am more often than not not behind a stroller handlebar when I toe the line. However, I am aware when I’m running. I pay attention to the rushing runners I can hear coming up behind me. That heavy breathing coming up on my right tells me someone might try to pass me on the wrong side. When I see a wheelchair athlete, a fast parent with a stroller, a blind runner with a guide, I give them them respect and space needed so they can run their race while I am running mine. What I did not expect, however, was what felt like hatred.
On one hand, I love that a man was overheard telling his run buddy, “I’ll be damned if one of those stroller chicks passes me.” One of the BOB Team SF gals who races for Fleet Feet Sacramento made sure to smile and wave at him as she passed — a polite but well-aimed way to say “I heard you, and just so you know, you’re damned today but we’re still cool.” One can hope that it helped him check his ego a bit to acknowledge yes, those “stroller chicks” can be strong and fast, even stronger and faster than him with the stroller. On the other hand, I did not expect a woman to seemingly take the time out of her race to be sure she put me in my place, so to speak.
Coming into the final half mile or so, I could see the arch. The far left side of the course included a bike lane that would normally flow the other direction — and if you’ve been on the Embarcadero in SF, you know that means a beautifully smooth, clearly painted green path. To me, when running the left lane is the fast lane, the right lane is the walking lane, and any “lanes” in-between on the race course should adjust accordingly. As I came up running, nice and smooth with the BOB Lunar on the painted green path, I called out, quite a ways back. “Coming up behind you! On your left! Passing on your left! I’ve got wheels!” She kept walking at the same speed with her partner, her plastic bag full of race swag on her back, giving no indication she had heard me at all. I nearly had to come to a complete halt to maneuver around her (up the curb, mind you,) as she raised her finger, issued a few other choice mumbled words and told me to “fucking go around.”
The respectable runner and ferocious mama bear in me nearly snapped. For a brief moment, I almost stopped the BOB gangland style across the front of her path to give her what for. How dare she say that to any runner. How dare she think she was somehow entitled to the course but I was not. How dare she not respect the fact that I was trying to do the right thing. Immediately, I was livid. It was bad enough that I’d had to fight to even run at all when the gun went off. Now she was blocking my nice, smooth, finally-found-a-damn-rhythm path to the finish line!
Thankfully, my neon BOB singlet quickly reminded met that I was representing for a greater good, and that this one person and her disdain for my desire to pass her while pushing my child was not worth the drama. Finger lady, I wasn’t trying to one-up you, make you feel bad, make you feel like somehow you should yield to me for reasons of superiority: I was simply trying to get by you without running into you.
And for the record? I know people heard me on the course. I know some of those runners could hear me through headphones. If the BOB Team says they could hear me everywhere, then I know that years and years of being an all-too vocal midfield and defensive soccer player with a strong diaphragm was serving me well out there.
THE FINAL VERDICT
The learnings I took away were big, and I’m still mulling them over. For a second stroller race, it was a big departure from the first, and it served me well to focus on having a good time and being a part of an incredible flagship team experience. It really lit a fire under my butt in many ways (that I will later reveal, but we’re still percolating over here.) While I was stoked to do something fun, with people who are fun and generally amazing overall, I didn’t expect that it would motivate me to create something more, to make something for others, to find a means to continue running without arms.
Truly, I am very grateful for all BOB gave us — not just use of a BOB Revolution Flex Lunar to keep, not just singlets and swag, not just a free race entry and a chance to rub elbows with an elite. By putting this team together, BOB perhaps unknowingly gave power to those who push by giving us the respect we fight for. The presence of this team on course was strong and while quiet, it was undeniably compelling. Runners of every ilk took notice. Runners who I knew might otherwise give a side eye or snide remarks instead gave light chin dips and head nods. There is something about showing up as a kitted team that immediately tells others that it is time to go to work.
When we toed the line we meant business — and I am damn proud at how hard the team brought it.
This was but our second stroller race, but it’s not the last for mini and me. I’m already looking for the next event, but admit I am also already counting down our limited time left for stroller running. The day will come when she wants to get out instead and run next to me, and while it’ll be the end of an era, it will be the beginning of a new one. Till then, I will make an effort to be sure we are sharing something we both enjoy with our trusty three-wheeler. Whether I’m pushing the empty BOB next to her or chasing her down to scoop her back into it, mini’s yelled narration of “RUNNING!” will never, ever get old.
May I carry that same pure joy with me the next time we toe the line.
From Erin: The 2017 San Francisco Marathon (#TSFM2017) Race Report
From Paula, BAMR of @fitfam6:
The crew x #bobteamsf. We all rocked this 5k this morning. From starting dead last behind all runners and walkers to weaving our way to the finish with our final mile+ at 7:xx min paces. These ladies are all 💪🏽 stroller runners. Story: a woman came up to us afterwards, asked for a picture. Confessed she was pissed when the strollers passed her, but I remarked “it inspired you to move right?” She said, “sure did!” Don’t be mad a stroller passes you, just know some badass runner(s) worked their ass off to move with speed and let it inspire YOU!