I want to start this recap off by thanking MFP for taking care of the kids and house so that I could go away and run another marathon this past weekend; my training partners for pushing me on long runs and track work; and all of you who sent your support and congratulations through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
(A sweaty mess: me, Katie and Jill, who ran the half-marathon and was all showered and decent-smelling at this point)
Last week I was particularly anxious to get this, the second marathon of the spring out the way. I felt ready, full of energy and willing to suffer.
I didn’t feel nervous, but I did feel ready to run.
(The view from our room. It was not an ugly place to be! Sorry for the rooftop, though. I didn’t bring my big camera on this trip so that I would actually focus on running like an idiot instead of recording every piece of food that I ate and every other thing that I did. You understand?)
I met up with my friends on Saturday afternoon and we headed up to Ventura to settle in to our hotel and relax before the big day. We reserved a table at a local Italian restaurant where we dined on pasta and pizza and split a single glass of red wine. We fell asleep between 9 and 10 p.m. with full bellies, our clothes laid out in various corners of our room.
We all woke up in good spirits and felt ready to roll, with the exception of Carolyn, who felt nauseous and was unable to drink her beloved morning cup of Joe. Still, we all piled into our friend Jill’s car and headed up the hill to Ojai, where the marathon begins.
I love traveling to marathons with friends, because socializing is a welcome distraction from race day jitters. In fact, we were all so focused on trying to cheer up our ailing friend that we didn’t have a lot of time to develop pre-run stomach distress ourselves.
I drank a full of cup of coffee in the hotel room and ate about half of a PowerBar on the drive. I know I need to work on getting more calories in before my races, but I always err on the side of caution. I have run enough races with stomach cramps to know better than to force myself to eat food that is not going down easily.
The Mountains to Beach Marathon is a very relaxed, smaller race, a sharp contrast to my last two marathons, Boston and LA. Lining up near the 3:30 pace group was not a problem, as a few nice gentleman helped my friend Katie and me over the barrier and made room for us beside them.
We said good luck to each other and waited for the starting horn.
Much like LA, the start of this race was smooth. I didn’t have to weave around slower runners at all, which means that everyone was pretty honest about where they belonged in the corrals. Getting a nice start is an overlooked part of marathon success. The anxiety that weaving creates tends to break me down a bit mentally. (Nike Women’s Marathon, anyone?)
The great payoff for training for a marathon is that the first mile of the race feels effortless, and when you look down at your Garmin, you tend to see a number that you only see during tempo efforts. This was not the case for me on Sunday.
My first mile ticked by in 7:53. I felt a little stiff, a bit bloated, and more than a little uncomfortable. I attribute this to not keeping up the intensity of my workouts during the last week of the taper for fear that I would bring leg soreness with me on race day, as I had done in LA.
I decided that regardless of how I felt in that mile, I was not going to settle for mediocrity, and that if blowing up in the end was the price I was going to pay for taking a chance and pushing myself a little bit, then so be it. Bring on the bonk!
I tucked in behind the 3:25 pace leader. I hit the second mile in 7:48.
My original plan was to run near the 3:30 pace group for the first six miles, and then start pushing past them after that, if I felt good. Obviously that plan evaporated rather quickly.
Mile three was 7:32. I threw my shirt, and with it went my race plan.
Mile four was 7:28 and by this point the 3:25 people were all behind me. I decided that I would run scared the rest of the way, trying to keep them and their pace leader behind me. How is that for a race plan?
(Aside: I do not recommend this sort of race plan to the people I coach. I took a chance because I had already run a PR race in LA weeks earlier. I was fine with this being a “throw away” race. And also because “do as I say not as I do!”)
Mile 5 was 7:31. I finally felt a little more comfortable at this point. I definitely needed the first four miles to warm up.
This race course was modified this year to accommodate a bigger field. Unfortunately this “mostly downhill” course added a few monster inclines in miles 6 and 7. These two hills strung out the group I had been running with. I hit these miles in 8:03 and 7:57, and frighteningly, the 3:25 pace leader pulled up along side me in his bright pink t-shirt at the end of the second hill.
This is when I realized that I would be running this race with my heart and not my mind. I took off and surged ahead with another lady, (let’s just call her my buff bff for simplicity’s sake) who will hopefully later appear in my race day photos.
I knew I was racing like an idiot, but I couldn’t resist seeing what would happen if I buckled down and allowed myself to suffer instead of playing it safe, as I usually do.
I hit mile 8 in 7:37, turned up my music and decided to get to work.
Mile 9: 7:31
Mile 10: 7:30
Mile 11: 7:38
Mile 12: 7:23
I had joined forces with a stud muffin lady, aka my new buff bff, and we were taking this course by storm! Not a word was passed between us, even though we were clearly sharing the workload.
Mile 13: 7:17
We were knee deep in the downhill part of the race, graciously allowing it to trash our quads and beat up our internal organs.
Mile 14: 7:15
Mile 15: 7:32
Of course I knew that the struggle was imminent, but I didn’t care. I turned up my music and pressed on.
Mile 16: 7:35
Mile 17: 7:39
And this, my friends, is when my buff non-talking running bff took off. Sadly, I never saw her again.
Mile 18: 7:41
I latched on to a group of guys at this point, holding on for dear life.
Mile 19: 7:52
This is when the sufferfest began. My legs were trashed, my body ached, my feet hurt, but my spirit was undeterred. I was running like an idiot and having a freaking blast. If I was going to bonk, then by god, I was going to enjoy every single ache and pain that ensued as a result.
Mile 20: 7:45
Mile 21: 7:41
I began playing the song “Sugarcube” by Yo La Tengo on repeat and begged my legs to cooperate. I have no idea why this song was my theme song for the day, but it was. Forever it will be associated with the bike path of Ventura and also with feeling like I was about to die.
Mile 22: 7:59
Mile 23: 8:01
Yes, my friends, this is when it hurt. This is when I paid. But I was okay. I knew I would finish, I knew that I wouldn’t walk, and I knew that I would not give up.
Mile 24: 8:11
I felt my pace slow, yes, but I was pretty happy that it only slowed by about 30 to 45 seconds per mile, rather than by minutes. If this was the price I was paying for running scared ahead of the 3:25 pace group and trying to keep up with my buff bff, then I was going to embrace the heck out of it.
Mile 25: 8:16
Yes, it was bad at this point. My legs felt like they might buckle beneath me. I was shedding a few tears and looking at my watch obsessively. I was crying because I knew if I held on I would PR, and I knew that holding on was going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. (I was also crying because it hurt like hell and I really just wanted my mom. Just a little. Wah.)
Mile 26: 8:41
Ok, so I did slow by a full minute per mile, but I didn’t care, because the end was in sight.
Mile .29: 7:59 (This is my bonk sprint pace!)
Finish time: 3:23:46, a 7 minute PR!
As far as fueling goes, I felt that the course was not well-equipped to handle a warm day, but they did send out alerts advising runners to bring their own water. I should have done so. I spent a lot of time between water stations holding onto my fuel, scared to take it without liquid. I know that if I had had some Gatorade Endurance at regular intervals, it would have eased my discomfort somewhat. I ate two full bags of Cytomax chews during this race, a record for me. I was forced to chew since the Fluid Performance that was offered on the course did not have enough calories or carbohydrates to sate me.
Ideal race day conditions for a marathon are 45 degrees at the start, around 60 at the finish. I have run in those conditions only once, in Boston 2013. All of my other marathons have been run in warmer conditions, and this one was no exception. I am used to it, but I always wonder how much better I would be at this thing if I lived in a cooler climate.
Some day I will find out.
Sadly my buddy Carolyn was not able to complete this race due to a stomach bug that reared its ugly head around mile 2. Still, she was in the finish area and cheered the rest of us on.
My friend Katie ran 3:11, which in this race full of fasties, was not even good enough to place her in the top three of her age group. In fact, my 3:23 only earned me 8th place, the same place I got in LA with a 3:30.
I noticed that most of the participants in this race were looking for a BQ or a fast time. I also noticed that a lot of people went out far too fast and killed their quads on the downhill. Even though I was bonking with the best of them at the end, I was still steadily passing people for the last four miles.
I admit; I look back at this race and think to myself, what would have happened if I had played it safe? Would my time have been even better? Would I have avoided the bonk and finished even stronger?
I don’t know.
That’s the thing about taking chances. You have to do it without regretting the consequences.
And even though the last four miles felt pretty close to a death march, I was more than willing to take the punishment.
A few other notes:
- My Nike Zoom Elite 6’s were great for the marathon. They felt much more plush than the NB890V4’s had in LA. I needed that cushioning, especially on the bike path at the end.
- My arch never hurt during the race, and it doesn’t hurt now either. That was weird.
- I trained at 7:30-45 pace quite a bit during this cycle. I hit this pace in my long runs when I was running with Katie or Carolyn, and I ran faster than this pace in my tempo runs. I felt locked into my pace, and that was a nice feeling.
- I feel like coaching myself is working out a lot better for me than following training plans. I know my body, and I understand the science behind training. I have knocked 12 minutes off of my marathon time this spring, and I am very proud of that.
- Also, I had a lot of fun training with friends. It takes the edge off of a largely solitary pursuit.
- I am ready for a break! No more marathons for a while. (At least a little while?)
And, finally, thank you all for following along and offering your kind words and support!