I am still processing what an amazing morning I had racing the Santa Barbara International Marathon, but I’ll do my best to put it into words (and pictures!) In retrospect, there are four things that made my first marathon go well: (1) the beautiful setting for a small(er) race, (2) a carefully planned fueling strategy for before and during the race, (3) proper pacing, and (4) the supportive people of Goleta and Santa Barbara who came out to cheer along the course.
I paid attention to my carbohydrate intake about three days before the race. There’s lots of debate about whether carbo-loading is helpful, especially for women, but I wasn’t taking any chances after hitting the wall on my 20-mile training run. The day before the race I tried not to eat too much fiber, got a little extra salt, and had a carbohydrate-rich dinner with some lean protein (pasta with marinara sauce and chicken).
In spite of my race jitters I managed to get about six hours of sleep, one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever gotten before a race. I woke up at 4:15, about half an hour before my alarm was set to go off, and just continued to rest until it was time to get up. At 4:45 I got up and flipped the switch on the hotel teapot for hot water for coffee and oatmeal. I realized I hadn’t packed a spoon (oops) and was about to eat my oatmeal with the clean end of my toothbrush as a scooper (true story) but then I remembered I was staying at a nice hotel that probably had a spoon for the mini bar (it did). I ate 3/4 of a banana and a cup of oatmeal, timed to precision about two and a half hours before the scheduled 7:30 race start (I say scheduled because there ended up being a 15-minute delay). Two hours before the race I drank 3 cups of water. Half an hour before the race I drank two more cups of water and took a Green Apple PowerGel for the extra calories and tiny bit of caffeine. I planned to take in a little less than four 23.6-ounce bottles of Fluid electrolyte drink on the course, based on the calorie calculations I made with the instructions from 4 Steps to Perfect Marathon Fueling.
My husband and kids woke up at 5:45 to take me to the race start. We left the hotel in Santa Barbara at 6:15 and arrived at the race drop-off location at 6:30, plenty of time to walk a few blocks to Dos Pueblos High School for the start of the race. On the drive over, a beautiful white egret flew over the road. Long-time readers might remember that on my training runs I often saw egrets along the Santa Ana River Trail, and right before my first half marathon an egret flew off the roof of my house. I love good omens!
There were tons of porta potties in the race start parking lot but even better there were two bathrooms in the nice warm high school. Over the course of an hour I went to the bathroom three times, not so much because I had to but to entertain myself and give myself the best possible race I could have. On the way to my last pit stop in the girls’ locker room I spotted a penny on the ground and picked it up for good luck. When another women commented on my luck, I pointed out one for her to pick up too! 🙂
At about 7 a.m. the race organizers announced a 15-minute delay (I never heard why there was a delay but people posted on Facebook that the shuttles from the remote parking area were backed up with long lines of people). I texted my husband about the delay, and loaned my phone to two other women so they could make calls to their husbands.
We all sat around in the warm high school gym until the announcer said it was time to head to the start. I dropped my bag off at gear-drop and took my place just before the 4:00 pacer. I gave silent thanks for the gorgeous race weather. High 40s to low 50s, sunny and clear. The forecast had threatened a 20-30% chance of rain and while I don’t mind running in the rain, I do mind RACING in the rain. There were high winds at times on the course but generally it was a tailwind and I never felt I was fighting the wind.
Marathon Miles 1-10
The starting horn sounded and everyone took off in an orderly manner. Love, love, love a smaller race (1,375 full marathoners). Goleta is beautiful with an interesting mix of mountain and ocean feel.
I restrained myself from going out at too fast a pace. I kept it at 9:06, my marathon goal pace, only going faster on the downhills. I think that was the main thing that allowed me to enjoy this race from start to finish. When I did the half marathon, I’d burned out by mile 5 and questioned why I ever signed up for a half. That never happened to me over the course of 26.2 miles.
The main feeling I had over the first five miles or so was: “I am so lucky to be here.” Cheesy as it sounds, I was grateful to be well enough to run the race, and to get to run in a spectacular new location. After training for six months, I was tired of running in the same old places, and here I was getting to run down the middle of the road along the coast on a gorgeous fall day.
Mike and the girls met me around mile 6 to hand off a replacement bottle of Fluid. The course then wound through Isla Vista, back to the high school, to the mile 10 mark. Another runner asked what time I had on my Garmin and when I replied 1:31 he checked his pace chart and said we were one minute ahead of a 4-hour pace. That was perfect as many of the official pacers for the race recommended banking some time in the first 13.1 to make up for the .4-mile hill at mile 23.
Marathon Miles 10-18
Mike met me again at mile 12 with another 24-ounce bottle. My oldest daughter ran along the sidewalk next to me for a while and told me she loved me. Such a nice way to boost me along on the race! At the 13.1 halfway point my gun time was 1:59.32. I felt strong.
This is a good time to talk about the course support from all the locals. I wish I could personally thank each person along the way who cheered for me and the other racers (while I didn’t have the voice to do that as I was running, I did give everyone a thumbs-up). The best was when people read my name from my race bib and cheered for me specifically. Each time I’d feel a little rush of energy, a renewed surge to keep me going. My favorite race sign showed a picture of eagle wings and said “Touch for Power.” You better believe I touched it, and totally felt the power! I also high-fived a clown (pretty sure I didn’t hallucinate that) and passed a giant yellow chicken. I also loved all the unofficial bands that set up camp along the course. Violins, banjos, drums. Loved and appreciated them all.
Marathon Miles 18-26.2
My 10-year-old passed me the last Fluid replacement bottle at mile 18. By mile 21 I could no longer keep up with the 4:00 pacer but still felt good and set my mind to push to keep the pace under 9:30 except on the big hill at mile 23. At mile 22 my legs felt tired and to entertain myself, I started counting the number of people I passed (while ignoring the people who passed me ’cause who needs to focus on that!) By the end of the race I’d passed 101 runners! There was a nice long downhill at mile 22 and the hill at 23 was tough but totally doable. I took a Green Apple PowerGel (the only gel I took on the course), not so much for the calories but for the caffeine boost. That turned out to be a smart decision. It helped. I didn’t walk on the hill and just kept on chugging and before I knew it I was at the top and ready for 2.2 miles of gorgeous downhill that included an amazing oceanside mile.
I thought that after the ocean views it might be a little anti-climactic to run to the finish on the track at Santa Barbara City College, but I actually loved hitting the track and sprinting to the finish. It helped that I finally passed that lady in the purple right at the finish! 😉 That never happens to me. I usually have no gas left in the tank at the end of a race. This time I felt fantastic and was just so thrilled to come in at 4:02:39.5. The McMillan Running Calculator had predicted that based on my half marathon time of 1:55:10, I could train to finish the marathon at 4:02:22. I was just 17.5 seconds off from that! Now that’s a darn good pace predictor, and a good indicator that I trained adequately for the race.
Overall I was 511th of 1,375 marathoners (top 37%) and 31st out of 99 (top 31%) in my 40-44 age group (I’m 41). I surprised myself with how thoroughly I enjoyed my first marathon. I expected it to be like the half marathon, where I questioned why I ever wanted to put myself through that. Instead, I enjoyed the view, took energy from the fantastic people along the course, pushed through the last hard 4.2 miles, and finished with a huge smile on my face.
Have you run a marathon before? What was your experience like? Are you training for a marathon now?