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I’m still catching my breath after an amazing weekend in Boston. Some crazy person scheduled me to run a marathon on Monday, fly 6.25 hours home on Tuesday, and start my first day on my new job at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Oh wait, that crazy person is me! And I have a lot to say about the whole Boston Marathon experience!

So, first I must confess the fact that I missed my flight to Boston on Friday and added six hours to an already very long travel day. Add on top of that the cough and chest congestion that I managed to catch during taper, and it was a pretty rough start to the weekend. Thank goodness I had already planned to run to enjoy the experience and not to race for time, because I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the days before the race.

I got happily settled at the house of some long-time friends John and Christine and enjoyed catching up with them. My brother- and sister-in-law and nephew also came up from Connecticut and it was great to see them and have their support at the race!

On Saturday my family went to the expo with me at the Hynes Convention Center. What an amazing sea of people! I’m not a fan of expos but I have to give credit to the organizers. Any time I had a question a volunteer seemed to step forward and give the answer before I could even ask the question! In no time I had my bib and an exceptionally nice blue and yellow long-sleeved technical tee. I couldn’t leave yet though without finding my name on the wall of marathon participants.

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So happy to be listed on that wall among all of the 2016 Boston Marathon participants!

Once outside the expo we walked down the street to see the marathon finish line on Boylston Street.

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Tourists crowded around to see the Boston Marathon Finish line on Boylston Street.

We had to go across the finish line to get to our lunch restaurant but I refused to walk across it and made my husband carry me. I wasn’t going to cross that finish line on my own two feet until I raced across it on Monday!

On Sunday, the day before the race, I pretty much laid low and drank as much herbal tea as I could to try to get as healthy as possible! For the pre-race dinner my husband Mike cooked us all an amazing pesto pasta dish with portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and made a caprese salad and garlic bread. Carbo-loading like a boss!

After dinner I took a hot bath to relax and help ease the cough and congestion. Then it was early to bed at 9:30 p.m.! Click the link to the next post for my Boston Marathon 2016 Recap Part II!

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I have mixed feelings when it comes to my recap and review of the 2015 REVEL Canyon City Marathon, so I’m going to break it down by the race elements.

Race Expo

I love a relatively small marathon (1,199 finishers) and a small marathon expo is just fine with me. I want to be in and out and not on my feet for a long time. This expo was held at a company warehouse in Azusa with ample parking. I had no trouble picking up my bib, gear bag, and t-shirt. This race offers a lot of runner-friendly features, one of them being a t-shirt exchange at the expo — if the size you ordered doesn’t fit you can trade yours for another size, or you can pay to upgrade to a long-sleeved shirt or tank top!

Flattering gray and blue shirt shown with my marathon finisher's medal

Flattering gray and blue shirt shown with my marathon finisher’s medal

It was nice to be able to check that my timing bib was working and that my name, age and gender information were correct in the database.

The timing mat at the expo confirmed that my bib timing chip was working and my information was correct in the database.

The timing mat at the expo confirmed that my bib timing chip was working and my information was correct in the database.

Race Day Parking and Buses

The race did a good job communicating the with runners about the location of the parking lots and bus pickups for this point-to-point course. Unfortunately, while the parking map said we could just plug “701 E. Foothill Blvd” in Azusa into our navigation system to get to the full marathon parking, when I did that on my iPhone it directed me to a dead end in a new subdivision of homes! And I know I wasn’t the only one, because there were at least four cars driving around that subdivision at 4:30 a.m. and a lot of runners panicking about making it to the buses before the last one left at 5:00 a.m.! I plugged the address into my car navigation system and that took me to a road that was blocked off for the finisher’s chute! I drove around in a big circle and in a stroke of luck eventually made it to the right entrance. The irony of the whole thing is that I’d written down directions on paper before I left and I had them in the car with me, but I couldn’t see them in the dark and just blindly relied on the iPhone. Never again! I boarded the bus at 5 a.m. (there were still several other buses so I know people were able to board after that time) for the 1-hour bus ride up to the race start in the San Gabriel Mountains. Tip: Make sure to board a bus with a bathroom! It’s a long ride to the start and the race nerves can get the best of you. Plus, it’s nice to use the warm facilities on the bus before you step out into the cold at the top of the mountain.

The Marathon Starting Line

It wasn’t as cold at the top as I’d expected, maybe 45 degrees? The race goodie bag included gloves and a mylar blanket. I brought hand warmers (a brilliant suggestion by Hungry Runner Girl) and those kept me toasty and happy.

It looks colder than it was. Plenty of people were shivering but I think that was more out of nerves than cold. A hat, sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves and hand warmers kept me plenty warm before the race.

It looks colder than it was. Plenty of people were shivering but I think that was more out of nerves than cold. A hat, sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves and hand warmers kept me plenty warm before the race.

As you can see it was a gorgeous day for a race. There were plenty of porta-potties and I never waited in line more than five minutes, even as it got close to the race start. I ditched my sweatclothes in my gear bag and had that in the truck by 6:45 for the 7 a.m. start. At the very last minute I tossed my hat and mylar blanket but kept my gloves and hand warmers (tossing those at mile 3). It was so warm I decided not to wear my arm warmers and just went with shorts and a t-shirt.

The course starts at the Crystal Lake Cafe at the top of the 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. It’s just a spectacular location for a race.

Out of respect for those in the campground next door to the start (I assume) there was no music at the start and not even a bullhorn for announcements, a national anthem, or starting horn. We started at exactly 7:00 a.m. with a countdown by the race director and the crowd.

The First Half (Average Pace 7:25)

I love running downhill and the speed that comes with it, and the first half of the marathon course is a downhill lover’s delight with over 4,000 feet in elevation drop. While I practiced on the course in training (see my 20-miler REVEL Canyon City course preview for more photos of the course), in retrospect I should have practiced the downhill running at race pace. As it turns out, running those 20 miles at a 9:00 easy pace did not prepare me at all for running the first 13.1 miles at a 7:25 pace! While people warn you that downhill running will trash your quads, I didn’t find that to be true at all. What hurt were my calves! Perhaps my form changed as I ran faster, or perhaps I just wasn’t well-trained enough to hit that pace during the race. I took a calculated gamble on letting my legs fly on the downhill, and I paid for it. Every race is a learning opportunity and now I know what I would do differently for a downhill race: in addition to doing wall sits to strengthen my quads, I would do lots of calf raises, and I would log several downhill miles at race pace. This course could offer a huge PR if you train properly for it.

I wasn’t the only one who got chewed up on the first half and spit out on the second. I bet if you looked at the race results you’d see a lot of positive splits by a huge margin. Many people were walking up the hills around miles 14-16 and 19 and even on the slight downhill in the last 5K of the race.

I should mention here that every single runner in the full marathon cut the course. You’re supposed to stay to the left of the cones (the right lane was open to occasional traffic guided by police cars), but I did not see a single runner adhere to that. I tried but gave up.

Miles 13.1 to 23.1 (Average Pace 9:10 for those 10 miles)

The aid stations in general were well-stocked and manned by enthusiastic volunteers, which is especially important on this course since spectators are not allowed on course until about mile 23. However, the aid station at the half marathon point (which you’d expect to be very well supplied since it was the start for the half marathon race) was lacking. A few volunteers held out cups of water and one cup of sports drink. I reached for the sports drink just as a guy behind me was calling for sports drink. When I took that last available glass, the guy yelled, “F***ER!” That took some of the wind out of my sails for sure, but I shook it off as best I could. I’m hoping karma took care of that guy.

The course hits some rolling hills over the next six miles, nothing too troublesome as long as you run by effort and not by pace. As I said though, several people chose to walk those hills, including me at some points.

The 3:25 pacer passed me at mile 16.4. I wasn’t surprised and didn’t even try to keep up. I did hope to keep ahead of the 3:35 pacer.

Miles 23.1 to the Finish (Average Pace 9:43 for that last 5K)

The 3:35 pacer passed me around mile 23. It was very motivating to me to see him holding up that 3:35 flag and I hung on behind him for dear life. I wanted to come in under 3:36:58 — my PR from the Phoenix Marathon last February — and I thought if I could just keep him in my sights I would be okay. WRONG! The 3:35 pacer completely fell off the rails and started walking in the last 5K. He finished behind me, and I finished in 3:39:08. I sure could have used his help in those last difficult miles. The last mile or two of the course was different than last year’s and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t an improvement. I ran the 25th mile okay but the 26th felt uphill until the last two turns into the finisher’s chute.

Overall I’m happy with my time, especially given that I qualified for Boston 2017 with 15:52 to spare (I’ll be in the 45-49 age group for that race and the women’s standard is 3:55). I really had high hopes for this race though and I wish I had done a few things differently. It just wasn’t the joyous experience I’d had at the 2014 REVEL Canyon City Half last year, or on my 20-mile training run. I can finally admit to myself that if I want to run a BQ effort, it’s going to take a level of mental and physical output that takes everything I have, to the exclusion of a joyous race. Which leads me to the conclusion that I’m going to run Boston 2016 for fun and for the experience! Thank goodness I have that on the horizon. I can enjoy a month of recovery workouts on the bike and in the pool and on the roads, and then training for Boston begins in December.

The Verdict

Would I discourage someone from running the REVEL Canyon City Marathon? Absolutely not! It’s a gorgeous course and a well-run (no pun intended) event. But if you’re going to go for the full, take my advice and strengthen your calves and quads. Practice downhill running like I did, but take it a step further and practice downhill running at race pace. And then go out and get that PR!

Would I encourage someone to run the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon? Absolutely. It remains my favorite race ever to date. All the fun of the downhill and the views without the punishing of the extreme elevation loss.

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I ran the REVEL Canyon City Marathon this morning and while I didn’t PR in the full, I clocked a PR in the half if you count my chip time at the 13.1 mark (which I don’t, but for the record it was 1:37:19 compared to my actual half marathon PR at the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon last year — 1:41:58). I took a gamble on letting my legs fly on the 4,000 feet of elevation loss in the first half, and it didn’t pay off. On my 20-mile training run on the course I didn’t get sore muscles when I ran at a 9:00 pace, but when I ran the first half of the race at a 7:25 I could feel it in my calves. My quads were fine, but my calves started feeling sore by the half marathon point and got more and more sore as the race progressed. I also developed a quarter-sized blister on the ball of my left foot. That’s never happened to me before in these shoes and socks, so I was surprised, but in retrospect I think the downhill running contributed to that and I wish I’d used some Glide on the bottom of my feet.

By the next checkpoint at mile 23.1 my time was 3:09:00, still on track to beat my PR of 3:36:58 from the Phoenix Marathon if I kept up the 9:10 pace I had run for those previous 10 miles. But my pace dropped to 9:43 for the last 5K of the race and I finished in 3:39:08. The good news? That is a Boston Qualifying time for me for Boston 2017 by 15 minutes and 52 seconds! While I am 44 years old today, I will be 45 for Boston 2017 and that puts my qualifying time standard at 3:55. So I’m thrilled overall!

By the numbers:

Chip time: 3:39:08
Pace: 8:21
Overall place: 293rd of 1199 finishers (top 25%)
Overall female: 85th of 536 finishers (16%)
Females 40-44 age group: 12th of 109 (11%)

I’ll be back later with a more comprehensive race recap. Right now I’m busy icing my calves and contemplating pizza for dinner!

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On a whim I decided to enter a contest for a free entry to the Shoreline Half Marathon from RaceGrader.com (a great place to check for reviews of Southern California races and to find registration discount codes for many popular local races). I’m always looking for someplace new to run and 13 miles along the beach sounded spectacular. Of course as soon as I typed in my email address and hit submit, I had second thoughts. How far exactly is Ventura from my house? Two hours. How early would I need to get up for the race? 4 a.m. Ugh, that seemed a little early for what would basically be a training run for the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in November. But what are the chances I’ll win anyway? Pretty darn good, apparently!

So that’s how I found myself lined up at the start of the 2015 Shoreline Half Marathon on Sunday July 12. And what a gorgeous shoreline it was!

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

I had arrived at 7 a.m. and parked for $6 at the public parking structure next to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, an easy walk to pick up my race bib and nice grey technical shirt at Promenade Park. There were plenty of porta potties and also some public restrooms on the beach path (oh the luxury!)

The half marathon started promptly at 8. I loved how the race director asked people to self-seed in the corral by pace and sent us off in waves every two minutes. It’s an unusual way of doing it but it makes perfect sense to avoid a crowded mass start along the beach path and the chip time doesn’t begin until you cross the starting line.

I wore my Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS watch but vowed not to look at it for the entire race. Mike didn’t think I could run “naked” (he knows how I love my data!) but that made me all the more determined! I wanted to practice running by feel and not by the watch. I hoped to go out at a steady pace, slower than marathon or half marathon pace but not exactly an “easy” pace — just a pace I felt I could sustain comfortably for 13.1 miles. I guessed that would be in the low 9-minute mile range.

The first part of the course runs five miles north along the bike path and the wide shoulder of the 101 overlooking the ocean. As always in a race I felt grateful for the privilege of being there and being healthy and able to run. The course is nearly all flat with just a few dips here and there, less than 100 feet of elevation change. Around mile 4 I could see the leaders of the race coming back along the course after the turnaround at mile 5. It was fun to cheer them on and marvel at their speed! The north-and-back and south-and-back layout of the course meant that there was plenty of opportunity for people watching with the 664 participants in the half marathon and the people on the boardwalk. Somewhere in the first five miles I passed the 2:00 pacer so I knew my pace was faster than I had originally thought it would be.

Pace miles 1-5: 8:54, 8:37, 8:29, 8:32, 8:22

The course then runs the five miles back, past the start/finish line, a couple of miles out under the Ventura Pier and around Ventura State Beach Park, and back to the finish line along the promenade.

Around mile 8 the pace stopped feeling comfortable and started getting tougher. The 8 a.m. start time meant that we faced some serious heat on the course in the later miles (73 degrees and humid by the time I finished). I wore a visor and sunglasses and stopped at the aid stations every 1-1.5 miles for Gatorade and water. The volunteers were hustling and did a good job helping the runners.

Pace miles 6-10: 8:29, 8:38, 8:27, 8:26, 8:36

The last 5K of the race was a challenge. My training plan only called for 11 miles for my long run so when I passed the parking structure after mile 12 the temptation to call it good was strong! The plan also called for a “fast finish” though, so I picked it up for mile 13 and brought it home strong.

Pace miles 11-13.1: 8:24, 8:52, 8:30

Chip Finish Time: 1:52:15, 8:34 average pace overall

Females 40-49 age group: 9 of 113

Females overall: 33 of 408 (Interesting that there were more women than men in the race! Go ladies!)

All finishers: 94 of 664

I enjoyed the bananas, oranges and Gatorade at the finish line while I waited in line for the free tacos. There was free beer too but I wouldn’t have survived the drive home with that!

It was an interesting experience running the race “naked.” I ended up running faster than I would have had I been looking at my watch, and yet the pace felt easier. I found that when I run by effort, the pace feels more comfortable than if I try to “force” myself to hit a certain pace on the watch. Now would I pace a marathon goal race this way? Not likely. That would take a lot more practice for me and a lot better sense of how to run 26.2 by feel. Would I pace another half this way? Absolutely, especially if I wanted to use the race to gauge my current level of fitness. For not tapering (and for spending several hours the previous day cleaning and priming my daughter’s bedroom to paint), I was very happy with how the race went. I recommend the course for the views, the smaller size of the field, the ease of parking and same-day packet pick-up, the nice race t-shirt, finisher’s medal, and free tacos and beer at the finish. Just a few tips if you plan on going for a goal time on this course: place yourself toward the front of your wave at the start, be prepared to dodge a few runners and people on the boardwalk (which isn’t closed to the public), and dress for the heat. With early bird registration starting at $45 for the half and going up to $75 in the months before race day, it’s a great value for a well-run (no pun intended), gorgeous race!

Have you ever run a race “naked”? Do you find it easier to run by feel or by a GPS watch?

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I love running new-to-me races and the 16th Annual Downtown Anaheim 5K Race did not disappoint!

The race offered free race morning packet pickup in addition to early pickup, which meant that I could sleep until 5:15 a.m., scarf down some oatmeal with brown sugar and a cup of coffee with milk, and hit Harbor Boulevard at 6 a.m. for the straight shot south to downtown Anaheim. I arrived at one of the two parking structures on Oak Street that had free, ample parking and I had no trouble finding the check-in table by 6:25 and the porta-potties by 6:30. No waiting in any lines!

Registration cost $35 but only because I was too chicken to sign up before May 1. Normal registration is $30 and there are discounts for teams and even a $20 early bird discount fee for those on the race director’s email list. Registration comes with a nice white cotton tee which I confess I used for a sweat rag after the race (what, it will wash clean!) and which I prefer over a technical tee if it keeps the cost down (same with the fact that there was no race medal – I don’t need more bling although I mention it because I know that’s important to a lot of people). Tons of great vendors lined the expo and offered free samples of everything from vitamin water to protein recovery drinks and bars. My favorite vendor though? The one offering two-minute lessons on hands-only CPR, something every runner (every person!) should know. Check out this demonstration video from the Boston Athletic Association, the American Red Cross, and the American Heart Association:

What the lesson taught me today is that to help you figure out how many chest compressions to do in a minute, you can perform them to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”

For more information on the cardiac risk associated with endurance events you can also listen to this great Runner Academy podcast: How Safe Is Marathon Running for Your Heart? (And when I say “cardiac risk” I am not talking scary hype, just the facts about the actual low level of risk and how to assess your personal cardiac profile).

Speaking of hearts, mine was beating pretty quickly with race jitters as I waited on the starting line. After a live rendition of the national anthem, the race began promptly at 7:30 a.m. under gloriously overcast skies, 63 degrees and 80 percent humidity.

I hope next year the race director has volunteers holding up minute-per-mile seeding suggestion signs in the self-seeding corral because I highly doubt the dude in cotton Bermuda shorts (no joke) who tried to place himself in front of me five rows from the start could run 7-minute miles. And I’ve never experienced more jostling at the start of a race. If I wanted to be elbowed I’d do an Ironman swim. Anyway, it is thankfully a relatively small race at about 850 participants and it soon thinned out on the wide straight streets of Anaheim. Unfortunately one of the train track crossing bars was stuck down and the course police directed us on the slightest jog around that. The announcer assured us the course wouldn’t run long and indeed, my Garmin measured 3.13 miles. Besides, this year’s winner clocked a course record so who am I to complain?

In spite of my best intentions and 1-minute warm-up intervals at race pace, I started the race a little too fast and had to settle into a 7-minute pace. The first mile seemed to fly by. My goal then became to “maintain.” Funny how mantras just pop into your head as you run. Mile two was good but getting harder, and mile three was a real challenge. I tried to walk (run) that fine line between leaving it all on the course and actually blowing up on the course. I did pretty well but my pace slipped a little. Perhaps I was demoralized by the woman who passed me as she pushed a jogging stroller (I joke — I wasn’t demoralized, I was awed!) I ended up finishing in 22:19, a PR by 1:25 over the iCureMelanoma 5K last May.

Gorgeous palm-lined finish with the American flag and balloon arch

Gorgeous palm-lined finish with the American flag and balloon arch

Turns out my time was good enough for second place in my age group!

Chip time: 22:19
Pace: 7:11
Overall: 136/851
Females: 25/434
Females 40-44: 2/36

I stuck around to collect my award but the timing company experienced a glitch and it couldn’t confirm the official results in time. Those came out at about 5 p.m. today and the awards will be put in the mail on Monday.

Overall I definitely recommend this race! The parking and packet pick-up are a breeze, the course is well laid out and flat, the finish line is beautiful and the expo has a real community feel. The race director gave out prizes from some of the sponsors and it was fun to watch a little kid get four tickets to an Angels game and an adult get a two-night stay at the Anaheim Marriott! One lucky lady with size 8 feet won a pair of Skechers running shoes (I curse you, size 11s! Actually I take that back — my size 11s have given me many happy miles.)

Racing a 5K was quite the experience after all my marathon training and racing. I followed this 5K training plan for advanced runners from About.com and I feel like it did the job well. I was surprised to note that my lungs gave out before my legs, and my arms were sore. Man I must have been pumping to keep up that pace!

What’s your favorite race distance? I like to mix it up. I would like to run another one-mile race some time but there aren’t too many around and the local ones haven’t fit in my schedule. I love an 8K — I feel like that is a nice middle distance race. My favorite race of all so far though has been the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon, just because the course was so spectacular in the San Gabriel Mountains, and I felt like I was flying down the course.

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Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

On Saturday, February 28, 2015, I joined the 1,881 men and women who conquered the Phoenix Marathon in beautiful Mesa, Arizona. I had trained for five and a half months for this race. I felt ready physically, and yet as I took the 30-minute bus ride from Mesa Riverwalk up to the full marathon starting line, I felt like I had my feet and hands braced against the open door of an airplane as a skydiving instructor tried to shove me out the door against my will. The thought of taking on my fifth full marathon intimidated me to the point that my teeth chattered with nerves and not just the cold.

After a 3:15 a.m. wake-up call (that’s 2:15 a.m. for this California girl), I’d hopped a bus at 4:45 and arrived at the staging area by 5:15. Conditions at the starting line turned out to be perfect in spite of the prior threat of rain. The temperature was in the 50s and the pre-dawn sky was overcast. The staging area boasted firepits and propane heaters to keep the runners warm, but I opted to find a place to sit and rest my legs after my first trip through the porta-potty lines. I hopped back in the burgeoning lines at 5:45 and tried in vain to will the lines to move faster. Only when the first set of fireworks went off did the line get moving, much to my relief. By 6:10 I was back out and changing out of my sweats, then slathering on sunscreen. I dropped my gear bag at the truck and walked to the starting line by 6:20. There were no corrals and I placed myself behind the 3:30 pacer but in front of the 3:35 pacer. The race started on time and we were off in the dark just as the sky started to lighten.

Miles 1 through 4 (Pace in minutes per mile: 8:01, 7:49, 8:07, 7:57)

The runners started out more slowly than I would have liked but that probably was a good thing, reining in my enthusiasm and adrenaline-fueled nerves. The course starts on a downhill grade but nothing that tempted my legs to really fly (it’s much less steep than the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon, which I loved). The pack of runners thinned after mile 2 or so and everyone settled into their own race.

Miles 5 through 8 (8:26, 8:33, 7:37, 7:55)

Miles 5 and 6 are uphill. I had done at least one hill workout per week in training so I was prepared for the hills and I tried to keep a steady effort and not stress when my pace slowed a bit. Mile 7 was the downhill reward for all that uphill. By then it was fully light outside and I enjoyed taking in some of the scenic desert landscape.

Miles 9 through 12 (7:56, 8:01, 8:03, 8:07)

The slight downhill grade continued through mile 12, and while the course declines in elevation after that I did not notice it. The course felt flat from there on out and unfortunately, we faced some wind on several of the miles in the second half of the race.

Miles 13 through 16 (8:10, 8:06, 8:17, 8:14)

I hit the half marathon mark at 1:45:39, right on pace for a 3:34 finish as hoped. However, at mile 15 I really felt the wind fighting me and I struggled to maintain my target pace of 8:07. This part of the course runs through more residential and industrial areas (meaning that the half marathon race course is not quite as pretty as the full course), but I remember passing many orange trees in bloom and the course smelled heavenly!

Miles 17 through 20 (8:03, 8:12, 8:10, 8:43)

Somewhere during mile 16 I distinctly remember thinking, “Okay, this isn’t fun anymore.” That’s not the kind of attitude that’s going to get you through 10 more miles of running, so I started working on my mental game. I remembered what my sleepy six-year-old had said to me as she asked for water at 3:30 a.m.: “Good luck Mama. You’ll do great because you’re a speedy mom.” I just started repeating “speedy mom, speedy mom, speedy mom” to myself, willing my legs to prove I was indeed a speedy mom. Unfortunately, in mile 20 I developed an odd, pulling sort of pain in my left buttock that made me have trouble convincing my leg to lift up and forward. I managed to work through it, thank goodness, but my pace never quite recovered. I didn’t hit the wall like I did at Mountains2Beach, but it was taking all of my mental and physical energy to keep racing. At some point my brain and my body had a conversation that went like this:

Body: “I would like to walk now.”

Brain: “I know, me too, but we can’t. Don’t give up now. Keep going! You’ve come this far.”

Body, “No really, I want to walk.”

Brain: “Sorry. Just run to the next aid station.”

And that became my mantra. “Run to 21. Run to 21.” When I reached the aid station at mile 21, it became “Run to 23. Run to 23.” Somehow the thought of running two miles until I could walk through the aid station was a lot less intimidating than running the whole remaining 10K. At every aid station (miles 3, 5, 7, 9 etc. until 23 when they were every mile), I took in two cups of Gatorade Endurance, lemon-lime flavor (my favorite!) The aid stations were well-stocked with Gatorade and water, and several stations had Clif Shots and/or oranges although I never took any of those.

Miles 21 through 24 (8:42, 8:45, 8:30, 8:51)

Spectators scattered themselves along the course in small packs. My favorite race sign of the day: “Don’t be the Seahawks. Run it in!” Around mile 21, one of my fellow Boston 2016 Facebook group members recognized me and encouraged me by name. I needed that boost then — there’s just something about someone saying your name that gives you that extra surge of energy and I appreciated that so much! I also loved all the kids on the sidelines who offered high fives, and the guy who had the “touch this spot for power” sign (you better believe I touched it)! He popped up on the course several times and I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad in addition to my husband and three girls waiting for me at the finish line.

During mile 23, the 3:35 pacer passed me. I felt both disappointed and inspired at the same time. I managed to pick up the pace to 8:30 as I chased him, but I soon lost sight of him. As my Garmin clocked mile 24 at an 8:51 pace, I decided to check my overall time: 3:20 and change. I realized that if I could just keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile for the remaining 2.2 miles, I could still break 3:40! My PR from Santa Rosa was 3:44:26 and I felt confident I could beat that.

Miles 24 through 26.27 (9:08, 8:29, .27 at 7:57 pace)

The thought of breaking 3:40 really lit a fire under me (not that you would know it from that 9:08 pace). It was clear that I hadn’t hit the wall and I still had some gas left in the tank if I could just convince my legs to go go go! I always joke that I can pick up the pace in the last mile when I realize that I’m not going to collapse on the course. Sure enough, I brought mile 25 in at 8:29. As I approached the final turn on the course, I came up on a girl who was pacing her friend to a Boston Qualifying time. She cheered her friend on as she called to the spectators, “This girl is going to qualify for Boston! Boston Qualifier, right here!” I smiled at her exuberance for her friend, and my cheeks flushed with pleasure as I knew at that point that she could be talking about me, too. As I picked up the pace in the final straightaway, I heard the announcer call my name and say that it looked like I was going to qualify for Boston, “Yes, yes indeed, we have another Boston Qualifier, Angela White!” I threw my hands up in the air with joy and relief!

Phoenix Marathon finish line

I had done it! I had hung on to break my personal best time by 7 minutes 28 seconds and qualify for Boston with 8 minutes 2 seconds to spare, coming in at 3:36:58 (which, let’s be honest, is SO much more satisfying than 3:37)!

My husband and girls had positioned themselves right after the finish line. I got kisses from all of them and they handed me the chocolate milk I’d begged them to bring to the finish (and thank goodness for that, because I got my medal, water, and a hand towel right away, but I didn’t see any food or other drinks right at the finish. I know there were tents with food elsewhere in the finisher’s area, but all I could think about was making my way to my family). We checked my time at the timing tent. I’m always so impressed when a race provides a printout right at the finish line. I learned that I came in 16th in my 40-44 age group out of 150 women. Dang those ladies are speedy! A full 29 women in that group qualified for Boston! That’s a tremendous percentage, and it either means that the course is “fast” and favorable, or lots of runners gunning for Boston targeted this race, or both. Either way, I recommend the Phoenix Marathon. I had a great experience before, during and after the race. Phoenix is beautiful in the winter and my family enjoyed making it a race vacation. And you know what my 10-year-old said when I crossed the finish line? “We’re going to Boston!”

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The day started with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call after about four hours of sleep. I wasn’t nervous about the race but I think I had a little too much salt at dinner and it kept me awake longer than I would have liked. Or maybe my body just wanted to test the theory that it’s not the sleep the night before the race that matters, but two nights before the race. Spoiler alert: the theory is true in my case! I had a great experience at the inaugural Revel Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon.

About three hours before the race start, I had my usual banana, oatmeal and coffee with a splash of milk, plus 20 ounces of Gatorade. The 35-minute drive to Citrus College in Azusa was uneventful. There was a bit of a line to get into the parking lot, and I had to park in the far lot and walk back to the buses. No big deal but I was desperate to find a bathroom at that point. The race information said the gym bathrooms would be open, but by the time I made it to the buses at 5:30 and asked where the gym was, the gym was too far to get to in time to get on the last half marathon bus at 5:45. Fortunately, some of the buses were tour buses with a bathroom, so I finagled my way out of the school bus line and onto the tour bus. In a second stroke of good luck, the woman in front of me in line gave me a tissue from her pack when she discovered the bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper.

On the bus drive up the canyon, I sat next to a lovely woman who had just run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. We chatted on the half hour drive up Highway 39. I enjoyed getting to preview the course that way, seeing where there were uphills and downhills along the course and enjoying the scenery. When we arrived at the start about 10 miles up into the canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains (recently designated a national monument by President Obama), I put on the warm gloves we’d been given at the expo and made a beeline through the brisk mountain air for the porta potties. There were enough for the number of runners (888 finishers in the half marathon). By that time it was about 6:30 and we had half an hour until the start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Before I knew it, it was time to trade my sweats for the mylar blanket we’d also been given at the expo, and load my gear bag into the truck. After another fifteen minutes, we got treated to a beautiful, live version of the national anthem, and it was time to line up on the course, self-seeding ourselves by the pacers of our choice. I got up close to the front, behind the 1:40 pacer, as I planned to go for a 1:45.

That turned out to be the right spot for me and I quickly settled into a 7:45-8:00 minute pace without any runners to dodge in front of me. There are some rolling hills in the first few miles, nothing too challenging and still plenty of downhill to get your pace up. In fact I’d planned to go out a little slower at the start, an 8:15, but my first mile ended up at 7:45. I just felt great and I went the pace my legs wanted to go on the downhills as I repeated my downhill mantra “light, quick, light, quick” in time with each step (as opposed to my mantra on the flatter sections, which turned out to be “put the hammer down, stay strong.” I have no idea where that came from but it worked!)

I enjoyed the spectacular views down the canyon along the partially closed course. We stayed in the left lane while the right was open to traffic guided by police escorts. Only once, though, did I see one set of cars pass by on the first 10 miles of the course. No spectators were allowed there either, which didn’t bother me at all. It was just peaceful and beautiful, with a sprinkling of runners along the course and helpful aid station volunteers about every two miles.

When I hit the halfway point, I did a quick self-check. At that point I was ahead of my target pace and I was still feeling great. I decided to maintain my current pace and reassess at mile 10. Incredibly, I still felt really good at mile 10 too. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than the tempo runs I’d been performing in full marathon training (ah the miracle of taper and the wonder of what a little rest can do for the legs). I passed the first timing mat on the course at mile 10 in 1:18:19.2 for an average pace of 7:50. From that point on I looked at the race as a 5K to the finish, “only” 3.1 more miles to go. I tried my hardest to keep the pace around 7:45 without burning out before the finish. Much to my surprise, I got a surge of energy when I could hear the finish line announcer, and then could see the finish line arch. I ended up averaging a 7:38 pace for the last 3.1 miles, for a 5K split of 23:38.8, which happens to be a PR in the 5K! I guess I’d better get out there for a stand-alone 5K soon to see what I could do at that distance!

My final chip time was 1:41:58 for an average pace of 7:47 (which happens to be my 10K PR pace for my very hilly local La Habra 10K). I stopped by the timing tent and got a printout of my official results, only to find out that I had placed 3rd in my 40-44 age group out of 104 women! 27th female of 576 and 76th of all 888 finishers.

Huge finisher's medal on the left, "bronze" medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

Huge finisher’s medal on the left, “bronze” medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

I celebrated with a heavenly massage at the Massage Envy tent, then made my way to pick up my gear bag. The truck had been delayed on the course so instead I started the long walk back to my car in the parking lot. That took 15-20 minutes and while it made an effective recovery walk, I would have liked to be back in my dry clothes for that (and really, I would have liked a shuttle bus). I drove back to the gear pick-up just in time to see my bag being sorted by bib number.

On my way back out of the parking lot, I spotted Andrea, a friend I hadn’t realized would be at the race as a spectator to cheer on Pavement Runner (and she hadn’t known until the last minute that I was running the race also — and when she heard she made a sign for me too!!) During the race I had heard people call out my name at mile 12 (a HUGE boost at that point because I was putting everything into staying at my pace by then) but I just marveled at the fact that these ladies could read my name on my bib. It never occurred to me that it was someone I knew!! I was so in the zone I just gave a double thumbs-up and kept my eyes on the road. So I was especially glad we connected after the race. It was particularly nice of her to be out at the race this morning when she is headed off to run Disney Avengers early tomorrow morning then hop on a plane to go run the Strip at Night in Vegas that evening!

I never imagined the day would turn out so well and that I would be celebrating a full 6-minute PR on my Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon time. Long-time readers can guess that the first thing I did when I got home was to plug 1:41:58 into the McMillan pace calculator to see that it predicts I could train to run the full marathon in 3:34:36. That would be a 10-minute PR for me for my fifth marathon, so I’m skeptical, but gosh darn it how much would I love to run that at the Phoenix Marathon in February?!

Overall I am very impressed by the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon and I would definitely recommend it to friends. (Note that the full marathon has a net loss of 5,134 feet compared to 933 for the half — I’m curious to see what people think of the full marathon and that serious downhill run).

What’s your next goal race and what is your goal for that race?

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I’m telling myself that the statute of limitations on writing race recaps is two months from the race date, or before your next race, whichever comes sooner (can you tell I was a lawyer in a former life?) My next race — the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon — is coming up this Saturday, so it’s definitely time to look back on the surreal experience of Ragnar Napa Valley.

My husband Mike has always said that the best way to make friends is to share an adventure with people. The type of experience doesn’t matter so much; it could be a canoe trip, a camping excursion, or, say, a 200-mile overnight running relay from San Francisco to Calistoga. True to his word, over the course of 36 hours at Ragnar Napa Valley, I went from knowing just one of 14 people on the Ragnaritas team to intimately bonding with a great group of women!

I joined my college roommate and sorority sister Renée in Van 2. Six runners and one intrepid van driver!

Missing from this photo from Van 2: our driver Janet and the current navigator, my friend Renée.

Missing from this group selfie from Van 2: our driver Janet and the front seat navigator, my friend Renée.

Van 2 had the luxury of sleeping in at the hotel until a decent hour, whereas Van 1 — six more runners and another wonderful driver — needed to be at the starting line in San Francisco before dawn (which I’d like to think was partially made up for by the fact that runner number 2, Annette, got to run over the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning fog).

I love how the green sparkle skirts made it easy to spot our teammates, even in the dark!

I love how the green sparkle skirts made it easy to spot our teammates, even in the dark!

For each set of six race legs the Ragnaritas all sported inexpensive matching tank tops from Old Navy in either gray, raspberry or a perfect Ragnar orange:

The Ragnaritas all sported matching tank tops from Old Navy with a logo designed by teammate Sara Aroz.

Awesome Ragnaritas logo designed by teammate Sara Aroz.

I’d say a good 75% of the fun of Ragnar is getting dressed up in costume and getting into the spirit of the event with your teammates (the other 25% being running and having the privilege of covering more miles than you could ever cover on on your own). Part of what I love about running is that it is an individual sport that lets you challenge yourself no matter your age or ability. The beauty of a Ragnar relay, though, is that for a couple of magical days it turns running into a team sport that allows you to share the experience with a wonderful group of like-minded crazy fun people.

Over the shared hours in close quarters in the van (or SUV as the case may be), you develop inside jokes:

Rule number one of Ragnar: never pass up the opportunity to use a Honey Bucket (a surprisingly nice brand of porta potty).

Rule number one of Ragnar: never pass up the opportunity to use a Honey Bucket (a surprisingly nice brand of porta potty).

You count and mark your “kills” (other runners that you manage to pass on your legs, all the while neglecting to count the number of people who passed you):

The Ragnaritas "killed" it for sure!

The Ragnaritas “killed” it for sure!

Our fearless team captain Shana (a super-speedy marathon runner who contributed a lot of those kills on some of the hottest legs of the race, no less), diplomatically assigned the race legs to each of the 12 runners. Some people ran 12.3 miles total while others ran a whopping 26.3 over the 33 hours we were on the course. I had just had a few weeks to recover from the Santa Rosa Marathon and was very happy with my 17.2 miles total as runner number 9. My first leg was 4.4 moderate (hilly but not killer) miles through absolutely gorgeous sequoia trees and cattle farms! It was hot in the mid-day but the trees provided some shade and they smelled so lovely!

After van 2 finished all of our first legs we got to camp out for a few hours of much-needed rest in a park:

Such fun to camp out under the stars in perfect -- chilly but not too chilly - weather.

Such fun to camp out under the stars in perfect — chilly but not too chilly – weather.


My second leg was 3.4 “easy” miles through Santa Rosa in the wee hours of the night. It reminded me of the pre-dawn start to the marathon I’d run on those streets just days before, except this time I ran past a cemetery of all places, at 2 or 3 a.m. (who can remember now — it’s all a bit of a sleep-deprived blur). We got an hour or two of sleep back at the hotel after the second round of legs and before we knew it, it was time to head back out for the last round.

My third leg consisted of 9.4 “very hard” miles along the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley on the way to Yountville. In spite of the blazing heat of the day on Saturday, I loved it because it re-traced where my husband and I had driven on our 20th wedding anniversary trip in July. My van mates captured this picture of me running next to one of the many wineries along the route:

Gorgeous running route by anyone's standards.

Gorgeous running route by anyone’s standards.

I was so happy to finish that third and last leg:

Happily heading in to my last exchange with runner number 10, Shana.

Happily heading in to my last exchange with runner number 10, Shana.

Before I knew it, we were all celebrating at the finish line party with a few well-deserved beers and a team photo:

That's me on the bottom right, with our awesome team of Ragnarita runners and drivers.

That’s me on the bottom right, with our awesome team of Ragnarita runners and drivers.

Somehow our incredible team of two drivers plus 11 masters women (age 40 and over) and one “young” lady managed to come in sixth out of 44 women’s open teams in an overall time of 33 hours, 14 minutes, 28 seconds. The beauty of it though was that it wasn’t about the finish time, it was about the experience. For two days we got to go off the grid and enter a Ragnar relay world where the only things that mattered were your teammates, running, food and sleep. I’m glad I had the opportunity to join the Ragnaritas to run Ragnar Napa Valley 2014.

Have you ever run a relay race? What was your experience like?

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“To B(Q) or not to B(Q)?” That is the question. If you’ve been reading along you already know the answer. If you’re playing catch-up with my Santa Rosa Marathon recap, here is Part 1 – Race Morning and Part 2 – the First Half.

When I reached the half marathon mark, I did a quick assessment. On track according to the pace band? Check. Body feeling okay? Check. My left hamstring had been mildly complaining at me for miles 1-10 but it miraculously loosened up and it felt good by the half. Breathing okay? Check. While it was definitely getting harder to maintain the 8:25-ish pace, I felt good overall, better than I had at the halfway mark at Mountains2Beach or Long Beach. I was really relieved that the mild cold I had caught from my kids the week before didn’t seem to be bothering my lungs at all. I had a bit of a runny nose but don’t we all while running?

At every mile mark throughout the race I did a check on my posture and running form. When I start to get tired, I’m terribly prone to hunching my shoulders, clenching my fists, and jutting out my chin. I made sure to relax my shoulders back and down, release my fists by pretending I was lightly holding a potato chip under each thumb, and draw in my chin (“shutting the drawer” as Coach Stephanie would say). I also made sure I was utilizing my core, tightening those muscles to help power my legs. This training cycle I really worked a lot on core strength and I could tell it made a difference. In the Long Beach Marathon, right around mile 17, there was a female spectator who was obviously an experienced marathoner. As I struggled on the relatively minor hills through the Cal State Long Beach campus, she called encouragement to me to use my core and run strong. That had stuck with me this whole time, nearly a year later!

Miles 14 to 16 (8:25, 8:28, 8:24)

As I ran mile 14, I started giving myself a pep talk. The mental game definitely began at that point. I knew I was on target to BQ if I could stick to my race plan. I told myself to prove each mile that I could do it. Just run 8:25 for the next mile. Prove it. Each mile felt like a huge success. At the same time, I started to break down the race into pie pieces. You’re halfway done. You’re two-thirds done. You’re three-quarters of the way. Don’t give it up now!

Somewhere around mile 15 I passed the 3:45 pacer, who still had a crowd of 10-15 runners clustered around him. Remember, I was targeting an 8:25 pace at this point and he was probably running a more even 8:30-8:35 throughout the race. So while I’d always had him in my sights, I finally passed him at that point. That gave me a boost of confidence and I knew as long as I stayed ahead of him I had a nice cushion on that 3:45 time (foreshadowing, much?)

Miles 17 to 19 (8:28, 8:24, 8:32)

There were times when I believed I could do it — I could maintain pace and BQ — and times when I did not know how I was going to keep up that pace. It got harder and harder each mile, especially during the ones that I stopped to walk through an aid station to gulp down some Gatorade and then I had to pick up the pace again to bring my average back down to 8:25. I knew though that if I didn’t keep up my fuel intake I would bonk at mile 18, 19 or 20 as I had in other races. I was super happy to see that 8:24 pace on mile 18, because it meant I hadn’t hit the wall and I could still run strong.

What surprised me is that my quadriceps started getting sore. Not cramping up or anything, but definitely getting sore, which is unusual for me during a run. Sure I get sore after, but during? Clearly I was putting in a lot of effort to maintain pace. That’s when I really had to dig deep. I started drawing on all the good wishes from friends near and far:

Your legs are more than ready. Your heart will do the rest. (Andrea)

You’ve put in all the hard work, now you get to enjoy the race! (Jen – Running Moves Me)

You have worked hard and … you will get to see your hard work pay off! (Kim – Day with KT)

Sending cheers and cowbells down the coast. (Geli – Run Oregon Blog)

I know you can do it! Sending you energy and good vibes! (Angie – Maybe Marathoner)

I know you have it in you. Stay strong and push through! (Sandy – Boston Bound Brunette)

It sounds cheesy to say so but I thought about all the people who believed in me, perhaps even more than I believed in myself! They boosted me up and motivated me to run as hard as I could. I knew my family and friends would be tracking me using the RaceTec Live Tracker (finally, a live tracker that actually worked!) and I wanted to reassure them that I was hitting my time goals and I was where I was supposed to be at miles 8.23, 13.1, 20.2 and the finish. I know I ended up worrying people a bit because the tracker showed gun time and not chip time (which was about 1:03 faster), so the closer I got to the finish, the less clear it was that I was going to make it. Either way it was going to be a “squeaker” for sure. Who knew the sport of marathon racing could be so exciting?!

Miles 20 to 22 (8:27, 8:33, 8:44)

I had told myself before the race that if I got to mile 20 and was feeling good, I should try to pick up the pace. My legs were quite sore by that point and they certainly did not want any part of picking up the pace! My calves started threatening to tighten up too. I concentrated on staying loose with a quick foot turnover, as fast as my mind could force my legs to go! I developed a new mantra, one that convinced me to keep running my hardest no matter how improbable a 3:45 seemed at that point:

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

Meaning, I shouldn’t get discouraged if I was struggling to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Of course I was struggling! If I weren’t struggling it would mean that I wasn’t putting in my absolute best effort. So I just kept repeating:

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy. Leave it all out on the course! Don’t give it away now!

By that point in the race the full marathon course had joined back up with the half marathon course on the greenway. Frankly, that was a little frustrating and discouraging. I do not mean to criticize this race or the half marathoners at all — this happens at a lot of races where the two courses converge at the end. Personally, I find it very hard to face the wall of half and full marathoners, many of whom are struggling at that point in the race (just like I have in other races). There were lots of walkers and slower runners. They weren’t blocking the path, but they messed with my perception of how fast I was going. I thought I was booking it (and it certainly felt like I was putting out a tremendous effort) when my pace did not always reflect that. I had to fight for every second, and remind myself to go by my watch, run my own race, and not key into anyone else’s pace (more foreshadowing).

Miles 23 to 25 (8:40, 8:48, 8:22?)

There was one person’s pace I needed to key into though: the 3:45 pacer, who snuck up behind me at mile 23. The sight of him really put the fear into me! I might not make it! By then, he did not have a single runner keeping pace with him. All those runners who had hung tight with him in the early miles had faded away, and I despaired as I watched him pull away from me, too. I literally gritted my teeth and determined to keep him in my sights. I went back to my old mantra: Prove it. Each mile, prove that you can hang in behind him. Don’t let go! I knew that I had a little bit of a cushion because he’d crossed the starting line before me, but I also knew that it was only a matter of seconds, not minutes. Precious seconds.

At some point during every race, usually in the last mile or so, I realize I’m not actually going to collapse and die right there on the course and I can afford to put on a kick with every last bit of reserves I have in me. I don’t know if that 8:22 split is accurate for mile 25 or not, because I kept hitting the wrong button on my new Garmin — hitting “stop” when I wanted to switch to the next screen to see the TIME/DISTANCE readout rather than my usual PACE/DISTANCE readout. Once that happened a second time I told myself to stop messing around and JUST RUN! At that point I was either going to make it or I wasn’t and I just needed to run as absolutely fast as I could without looking at my watch anymore.

Mile 26 and the last 0.2 — well, 0.36 by my Garmin (9:04, 8:23)

The course hit the streets of Santa Rosa again and I knew I was getting close to the end. I told myself what I always tell myself at that point in a race:

The faster you run, the faster it will all be over.

I was never so happy to see the finish line before in my life! Except the finish line gun time clock also came into focus, and I saw it said 3:45:XX! I knew then that I would have to run my heart out and hope for the best. I heard the finish line announcer call my name and that gave me one last surge of energy to cross the timing mat. I crossed it, and I didn’t even smile. No arms up in the air in victory like I had pictured when I envisioned getting a Boston Qualifying time. No sobbing of happy tears. I was completely and utterly spent, like a big balloon that had started the day all inflated and happy and had slowly leaked air until it lay like an empty, limp shell on the ground. I must have looked stunned because the guy handing out medals asked me if I was okay. I nodded numbly, accepted my medal, and glanced down to check my Garmin. 3:44:25. I had done it. I had qualified for Boston. My official chip time was 3:44:26. I had 34 seconds to spare. Precious seconds.

Looking back, I realize that at the time I didn’t quite believe that I had pulled it off, that I had really gotten the BQ I had been training for ever since I ran my first marathon in 4:02 nearly two years before that. I felt like someone would come up and tell me it was a mistake, that I hadn’t really qualified, and they’d take it away. Partly too it was that I knew that if I let myself believe it, I really might start to sob right there at the finish line. Slowly throughout the rest of that day, I let it start to sink in, and eventually I wanted to tell anyone and everyone who asked: “I qualified for Boston! Finally! Fourth full marathon, first BQ!”

So now you know all the crazy thoughts that go through my head before, during and after a race. When you run 26.2 miles, you spend a lot of time in your head and it’s always interesting to see what thoughts go through it and what you end up taking away from the experience. This time I took away a sincere gratitude for all the encouragement and support I had received during training and during the race.

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We interrupt this Santa Rosa Marathon recap with the least original thing said after a marathon, ever: I am so sore. It’s been 48 hours since the race ended. I feel pretty good if I keep walking around, but as soon as I sit down for any length of time, or worse yet, sleep? I can barely get moving again. My quads are so sore that it took me three tries to get up off the couch this morning. Finally I succeeded by doing a newborn giraffe move involving spreading my legs wide and using my arms to press myself up to standing.

If you missed the thrilling first installment of the race recap — Earthquake! Axe murderer! — you can read Part 1 here. I left off at the starting line.

Start: 6:03 a.m.

You might recall that one of my goals was to go out slow, up to as much as 40 seconds slower than marathon goal pace, in the hopes it would help me keep from bonking later in the race like I did at Mountains2Beach when I went out too fast. I had written up a marathon pace band starting at 9:10 for mile 1, 8:50 for mile 2, 8:40 for mile 3, 8:30 for mile 4, and 8:25 for every mile after that. Assuming I could run the tangents well enough to run 26.4 miles total (just 0.2 over the plotted course), that would bring me in at the finish line at exactly 3 hours 44 minutes. The night before the race I decided I couldn’t quite bear going out 40 seconds slower, but I would try to go 15-20 seconds slower for that first mile, and then ease into marathon goal pace over the next three miles.

Miles 1 to 3 (8:43, 8:33, 8:32)

I loved starting out at an average 8:43 pace for the first mile. My legs felt fresh from taper but I didn’t make the mistake of going out too fast because of that. I found that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and the first mile felt like a nice warmup. The whole field of runners set off in harmony and I easily settled in without having to dodge around other runners as is often the case at larger races.

The first 2.5 miles of the race wound through the city streets of downtown Santa Rosa. It seemed like a lot of turns but it went by quickly as I focused on running the tangents (running the most direct route possible). I knew that those 2.5 miles would help spread out the field of runners so that when we hit the narrower greenway path at 2.5 miles it would not bottleneck and back up. Thank goodness that was indeed the case. It didn’t feel crowded on the greenway and I didn’t feel any frustration with my position in the trail of runners. I did worry that at some point I would want to pass the 3:45 pacer and the pack of runners clustered around him, but — spoiler alert — that didn’t happen until mile 15 when we were out on the road.

The greenway is just that: green and beautiful and mostly flat. Note that for safety reasons, runners are only allowed to have one earbud in while they are running on the greenway (that was the 2014 rule anyway). I choose not to listen to music while I race. I can listen to an audiobook during training runs, but during a race I like to focus on my surroundings, on how my body feels, and on my pace and form. I don’t mind if others listen to music as long as they are aware of others around them.

Miles 4 to 6 (8:30, 8:27, 8:24)

Aid stations popped up every 2 miles or so on the course. They were well stocked with Gatorade Endurance and water. (Only once did I suspect my cup of Gatorade had been watered down a bit. The lemon-lime flavor that tastes like liquid gold when I need it tasted more like Gatorade-flavored water that time. Overall though the aid stations and volunteers get a big thumbs-up from me). The best stations were the ones that had water on the left side of the course and Gatorade on the right. That made it easy to grab the correct cup from the volunteers. I also saw volunteers handing out oranges, bananas, and gels at aid stations later on the course. I did not carry any fuel with me and I relied solely on the course aid stations. I had practiced this at the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in May and on interval workouts during training. I knew I needed to get 6-8 ounces of sports drink at each aid station, which meant asking for two cups and taking about 8 gulps as I walked. I burn over 3,000 calories during a full marathon and I wanted to take in at least 1,000 calories on the course. Ten minutes before the race I had gulped 16 ounces of Gatorade (enough to prime the system, taken in close enough to the race start that it did not make me have to stop at a porta potty along the course. There were plenty of those but I’m grateful I didn’t need one).

Miles 7 to 9 (8:24, 8:22, 8:28)

Just after mile 8 the course leaves the greenway path and hits the road. There are some rolling hills, never more than 30 feet of elevation gain and loss. Any potholes were marked with yellow spray paint around them. The course was marked in green sticker arrows and white chalk (blue arrows for the half marathon). I never had any problem navigating the course.

Miles 10 to 12 (8:23, 8:25, 8:27)

Around mile 10 the course veers into beautiful DeLoach Vineyards, one of the sponsors of the race. That’s the one hiccup on the course — you have to run on a very short section of dirt road, just a few hundred feet. I wouldn’t have minded it but the runners ahead of me kicked up a lot of dust. The reward for running over that stretch though is getting to run through the barrel room at the winery. Watch out for runners stopping to take photos at this point and of course if you are one of those stopping to take a selfie, remember to be considerate and step all the way to the right to stop. The course heads back out past the rows of grapevines. The vines were dripping with full clusters of grapes at this time of year. Some of the trees on the course were already starting to blush with fall color even though it was only the end of August.

Mile 13 and 0.1 – The Half Marathon Point (8:30)

At the half marathon point by the distance shown on my Garmin, my time said 1:51:05. The race timing mat at the actual half marathon point registered my chip time as 1:51:48. That was just 3 seconds slower than the target time I had written on my pace bracelet: 1:51:45. Things were looking good, but I knew from experience that the race really starts for me around mile 18. Only then would I know if I could break through the proverbial wall and run on pace to qualify for Boston with a 3:45 or less. And now, Part 3, the thrilling conclusion!

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