Yesterday morning I finished off week four of Mountains 2 Beach Marathon training with my first 20 mile run (the plan calls for four 20 mile runs — am I insane to follow such a rigorous plan? Feel free to discuss that in the comments). Anyway, it was an EPIC run. I’d say all 20 mile runs are epic runs, but this was epic with a capital EPIC because I ran all the way from Anaheim in North Orange County to the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach.
I chose the Santa Ana River Trail because its gentle downhill grade to the ocean mirrors the Mountains 2 Beach course grade from Ojai to the ocean at Ventura.
Over the course of 20 miles from Yorba Regional Park to the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Ana River Trail loses 280 feet in elevation. It doesn’t feel downhill though, and with several road underpasses and bridges over the river, it manages to squeeze in 72 feet of elevation.
The first several miles of the run I felt great yet intimidated by the sheer length of the workout before me. At mile 2 I couldn’t keep myself from doing the math: “You’re a tenth of the way done.” Mile 4: “You’re a fifth of the way done.” What had I gotten myself into?!
The weather cooperated with temps starting in the low 60s and rising to the high 70s three hours later. I carried one 20-ounce water bottle in my hand and another 24-ounce bottle in my fuel belt. There are several drinking fountains along the way but not nearly enough to rely on alone. With the dry SoCal air, I ended up needing approximately one gallon of Fluid sports drink and water!
Passing mile 10 and the halfway point gave me a boost in spirits but my energy started to wane a bit. I still hit my desired 9:35 pace but my effort to get there increased. I planned to take a green apple PowerGel with caffeine at mile 13. Before that though, I got just the injection of energy I needed. A cyclist riding up the trail saw me toughing it out and called out, “Keep it goin’ girl!” I called back a grateful “Thanks” and rode the wave of his kindness for the next mile. It amazes me how a few simple words of encouragement from a stranger can make all the difference! I have to laugh though and wonder what it is that makes strangers know I need that encouragement. Remember the man who lifted my spirits when I bonked on my first ever 20 mile run? Yesterday I did not bonk on the run, thank goodness, but somehow people still knew I needed the boost. Had the cyclist passed me on his way down the trail an hour ago and recognized me on the way back? Did he see my Garmin and know I was in for a long haul? Did I have a grimace on my face or the hunched back I cannot seem to avoid when I get tired, no matter how hard I pay attention to form? Was I flinging sweat left and right? Or did I give that cyclist a jealous look that said, “I want to hop on your bike like it’s Brad Pitt!” Whatever it was, he recognized a need in me and I am so thankful he made the effort to say some kind words.
At about mile 16 the breeze picked up as I approached the ocean and it became harder to hit the 9:35 pace. I used my struggle to practice what it would be like at the marathon. I pulled out all my mantras, this time throwing in what the stranger had said: “Keep it goin’ girl!” I thought about what it would be like to hit that 20 mile mark, having met my pace goal for the day. By mile 18 I was having to dig deep and fight it out. And then it happened again! A female cyclist passed me from behind and called back, “You are hauling! Go girl!” I nearly burst into tears! Instead, I managed to say, “Thank you! I needed to hear that!” More words of encouragement that helped me pick up the pace and knock out 20 miles at an average of 9:34, with the last mile at 9:06.
When I hit 20 miles I threw my arms up in the air and yelled like I just didn’t care: “Twenty miles!” There was no finish line photo, no arch of balloons over the line, but I celebrated anyway. And when another kind couple saw me walking rather stiffly on my cooldown walk and asked if I was alright, I assured them: “Yes! I did 20 miles!”
I’d done the 20 miles in 3:11, and I walked for another 40 minutes. In retrospect I should have had Mike pick me up after I’d walked for about 10 minutes. That last 1.6 mile walk to the beach might have been the hardest part of the workout! I desperately needed more water, and I texted my husband to make sure he and the rest of my support crew (three cute little girls in beachwear!) would be waiting at the parking lot at the end of the trail. I’ve never been so thrilled to see the ocean and to see my family waiting there for me! We walked (well, I hobbled) down to the shore and I kept on walking, right into the ocean for an “ice bath.” I could barely stand the cold on my feet but it felt glorious on my calves and thighs.
Today I feel surprisingly good. My neck and shoulders are sore, which tells me I’ve got to work more on correcting that hunchback form! My knees are a little sore, which tells me it’s a good thing I am training on the downhills to prepare for Mountains 2 Beach. Mentally, I am relieved to have met my pace goal for my first 20 miler of this training series. Spiritually, my faith in humankind has been boosted by the good-hearted strangers who made it possible.