Night before the race: I was so nervous! More nervous than my two triathlons. I’d trained so hard for this race and put so many hours in. I wanted it all to pay off, and to have a good race, and not get injured, and meet my goal of a sub-2 time. My training runs the last few weeks of training had been slow. I felt rickety and sore and could hardly keep up a 5 to 5.5 mph pace even for the 3 mile runs. How could I run 6.5+ mph for 13.1 miles? I slept horribly and was grateful when it was time to get up at 3:45 a.m.
Morning of the race: I always feel a bit better the morning of a race. The time has arrived and now I just need to get to the starting line on time. It was dawn as I went to get in my car in the driveway. Suddenly a large white bird flapped its wings and lifted off of the top of my garage roof! It was an egret, one of the birds I had seen many times along the Santa Ana River Trail as I trained. I took it as a good omen.
I was still quite nervous but I’d planned well for the logistics. It was a pain trying to find the right parking lot, and then find the porta-potties, but I’d left enough time that it all worked out. I had a bit of a scare when the horn sounded for the marathon start time, but that was for the full marathon which was starting about 20 minutes late. In the line for the porta-potty, I chatted with a young guy ahead of me. He was there with his sister. I mentioned that it was my first half marathon, and the sister gave me the ultimate compliment right before a race. She looked surprised and said I looked like a pro! I glowed. The line moved quickly and I was glad to meet up with my training group and pass off my sweatshirt, phone and key, and then hurry to the start line for the national anthem.
Start of the race: I felt superb. No aches or pains, no lingering injuries. I had excess energy due to the pre-race jitters, and I felt fantastic going out. I should have slowed down in fact. I went out too fast and there was no way I was going to “negative split” and run the second half of the race faster than the first. At the time I figured I should burn off those excess energies and gain as much time as I could. I know that wasn’t exactly the best strategy and it certainly won’t serve me well for a marathon.
People placed themselves appropriately in the corrals so I was starting with a fast crowd in corral A. It was amazing to run with that many people. It was overcast and cool, and all I could hear was the pounding of running shoes and the huffing breaths of fellow runners. I took a moment to appreciate the camaraderie of 8,708 people running the same race. I didn’t have to dodge too many people but I felt like I was passing more people than were passing me, and I never like that feeling. You want to run 13.1 miles, not 13.2 because you had to run right and left to get around other people.
Mile 1: Already I regretted wearing my lightweight long-sleeved shirt and wished I’d opted for a short-sleeved shirt. I could have even run in shorts. It was overcast but warm enough at 60-some degrees that I felt hot running at my pace. My sunglasses even fogged up at one point. I worried about what I’d do with them if that continued. Wear them on top of my head of course, but even that seemed like a chore. I left them on and plowed ahead and they cleared. I was grateful I wasn’t one of the people who felt a need to stop at the mile 1 porta-potties. My pre-race nerves had taken care of that!
Mile 3.1: I checked my watch at 3.1 miles and my time was close to my 5K time from the Turkey Trot back in November. Oops. That’s a clear indication I was running too fast. Still I didn’t care. In the moment I was happy to be running sub-9-minute miles and figured I was banking time for later. I sipped Gatorade about every mile.
Mile 4-ish: Some cute little girls were handing out water bottles for free. They weren’t race volunteers, they’d just decided to cheer on the racers and offer free bottled water. I didn’t see anyone taking them up on it but I thought it was nice.
Mile 5: I took a cup of water from a volunteer at the aid station. I figured I’d need it to go with the gel I planned to take at mile 6. I chucked my empty cup toward a trash can and nearly hit a guy who was coming up on my left. I apologized and he told me I hadn’t hit him. 🙂 I was glad about that.
Mile 5.5: I totally started to drag around mile 5.5. I was questioning why I was running that race, why I thought I could do a half marathon, what was fun about that, why I was putting myself through that, how was I going to complete another 7.6 miles, and how would I feel if I didn’t meet my time goal of under 2 hours? I could hardly focus on the beauty of the course. It was all I could do to breathe and think about my form and try not to trip on the small, round yellow and white reflectors that marked the lane lines on the road. We ran along some streets that had gorgeous, multimillion-dollar homes on the right and the Corona del Mar State Beach on the left. At one point I passed a woman who was pushing a tweenager girl in a wheelchair. The girl was ringing a cow bell and smiling and clearly enjoying the race. It was quite inspirational. I told myself to suck it up and be grateful that I could run.
Somewhere just before mile 6, a woman runner called out, “Does anyone have the time? Anyone?!” I answered her with the number on my Garmin — not the time of day but the time since I started the race. I’m not sure how helpful that was to her, given that we likely had not crossed the start line at the same time and thus “her” time was not the same as “my” time, but I felt glad to be able to help her, especially since no one else answered. I don’t blame them — it was all I could do to focus on my race.
Mile 6: I took the green apple gel and some Gatorade and was grateful for them. Another half mile later they kicked in and I got a second wind. Thank goodness! I felt a lot better and told myself that I’d need to make some changes next time (what next time?!) — either eat more before the race, or take a gel earlier in the race.
Mile 6.5: I passed a male runner who was carrying the American flag. There I was, nearly regretting the extra weight from wearing a race belt with my water bottle, and there he was carrying a huge American flag on an 8-foot pole! He had to lower it down to go under the bridge and onto the cliff path. The mile markers along the course all had banners: “I run…” “for myself and no one else” “because I can!” “to stay fit… look good… feel good!” (that’s me!) “in honor of our US armed forces for protecting my freedom to do so!” etc. It was cool to see that flag.
Mile 7: We ran along a narrower cliff path instead of a two-lane road and while it was gorgeous, it highlighted the fact that there were still a tremendous number of runners crowding the course. People were running on the left to pass on the grass and the dirt/sand. When I went by the photographer at mile 7 and ran over the timing mat (which I assume was there to check that people weren’t cheating on the course, because the race results didn’t show the split time I hoped to see from that mat), there were people surrounding me all around. When I watched the video later on, I could see that people were lined up 8 across, even when they weren’t in a group running together. The course was just that crowded. I never felt slowed down exactly, but I felt annoyed at having to expend the energy to pass other runners.
Miles 8-11 are a total blur. I have no idea what happened on those miles. I know I got water at one point. Anytime I didn’t want water at an aid station I moved to the other side of the road to avoid runners who were slowing down. I got into a zone. I found another runner who was going at my pace. She wore a neon yellow tank top with pink puffy paint in the shape of a heart. I focused on keeping up with her. At mile 9 or so she paused to hug her mom and shout, “I’m keeping under 9!” That’s how I knew I was on target for my goal. My Garmin told me so, but it was fun to hear another runner confirm it. It was getting harder to stay under 9, and anytime we hit a hill my pace would creep above 9, sometimes even 10. Just before mile 11 my training class friend Kevin passed me and said, “Good job, Angela!” I was pleased to see him because it meant that I was doing well (he was always faster than I was at the long training runs) and his neon yellow-green shirt gave me something else to focus on ahead.
Mile 11: At mile 11 we hit a huge hill. For a training run it would have been no big deal, nothing I don’t do on the hills near my house. At mile 11 on a 13.1-mile race? It was a big deal. I kept running though and used my training to my advantage. I tried to stay on pace and didn’t beat myself up when I didn’t. I started telling myself to “leave it all out on the course! You won’t regret it! Two more miles! Push yourself! Speed up!”
Mile 12: I was so glad to see the turn off for the marathoners to go right and the half-marathoners to go left. It didn’t even occur to me that I’d never run more than 12 miles before. Nor did it occur to me how crazy it would be to continue to the right and run another 14.2 miles. 🙂 I was totally focused on running a super-fast last 1.1 miles. I kept telling myself that I had less than 10 minutes to go, and I wouldn’t regret pushing myself. My form was terrible but I was running faster (so my Garmin said) and I just concentrated on running as fast as I could. A band was playing at mile 12 and I was grateful to the drum beat cheering me on.
The last two turns were discouraging. I couldn’t see the finish line yet! When would I see the finish line?! I started to feel a tiny bit of relief at the same time because I knew I was going to finish, and likely would be under the 2-hour mark. I wasn’t injured. I could feel my left hamstring yelling at me a bit, but it wasn’t injured, just sore. I pushed myself harder and harder. Keep up with neon tank top girl! You can do it!
Mile 13: Finally I saw the finish line. I pushed myself as hard as I could. I couldn’t look left or right to see if I could see Mike and the girls, but I heard my preschooler say, “There’s Mama. Go Mama!” I waved in her direction but focused on the finish line. I drove hard to the finish, put two thumbs up, and smiled. When I crossed the timing mat, I slowed to a walk and wobbled a bit. Not that anyone else would notice, but I noticed! I hardly wanted to stop walking to have the volunteer put the medal around my neck. I was afraid if I stopped I’d crumple to the ground!
13.1: How did I feel at the finish? So glad to be done. Thrilled to have met my time goal with a finish time of 1:55:10. Relieved not to be injured. I kept walking to the refreshment table. I tapped neon tank top girl on the shoulder and thanked her for being my pacer, even though she didn’t know it. 🙂 She smiled and patted me back. I gasped to a volunteer a question about where the water was. All I could see was Gatorade or some such drink and I wanted water. I went back a few tables and found an electrolyte water drink. Perfect. I kept walking to the Beer Garden where I’d arranged to meet Mike. I talked to two women who’d done the 5K, and then a half marathon guy joined us. We rejoiced in our PR’s (no matter that it was my first race and any time was a PR!)
My girls ran up to me and hugged me and congratulated me and oooh’d and aah’d over my “golden medal.” It was such a thrill to meet up with them there. My girls dived into my post-race banana and granola bars, but Mike handed me an egg sandwich they’d brought and I was happy to share. I could hardly swallow a bite at that point anyway. It all tasted like cardboard. I ate some banana and about 45 minutes later some egg sandwich. I never did eat any granola bar after the first cardboard bite. I was happy, drenched in sweat (to the point of feeling cold now that I wasn’t running anymore) and so excited to enjoy the rest of my day as I recovered from the race and rewarded myself with time with my family at the beach and good food and, later, drink.
Post-race: I hobbled around on sore legs but felt surprisingly good. I took advantage of the free Massage Envy massage. The guy worked on my legs and it both hurt and felt awesome. Hurt so good. My coach had offered me some arnica cream which I gratefully rubbed on my thighs and hamstrings. I smiled a huge smile when I saw the “13.1” Mike had written on the dust on the back window of the car. At the beach I took an “ice bath” in the ocean and then iced my thighs, hamstrings and calves with the bags of ice Mike brought. I rested, walked, and ate some chicken and apples. Back at home several hours later, I watched a movie, enjoyed a cheese omelette made by Chef Mike, and had some red wine. I felt great. The post-race high kicked in.
The day after: I was quite sore anytime I started walking, but once I got going I felt good. Going down the stairs was a challenge, as was sitting down on a chair or sitting down on the toilet LOL, but really I felt surprisingly good. I felt such a huge sense of satisfaction from the race that I was glad I’d done it. Proud of myself for sticking with the training, and grateful that it had all paid off with a great race.
Two days after: I felt so good physically and mentally that I was looking for the next challenge. I started researching the various marathon options. Could I do it? Did I want to do it? If I was even thinking about it, I should go for it! I looked at the Santa Barbara International Marathon site and the Yelp reviews of the race, and those things combined with the ideal date of November 10 (a Saturday race, with the girls having off Friday and Monday from school), I decided it was fate. I emailed Mike with the subject line: 26.2.
Three days after: I officially signed up for the marathon. I ordered books about it. I put books on hold at the library. I was in, 100%. No going back. I didn’t feel panicked. I felt good. Appropriately challenged, a little nervous, and a lot excited.