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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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The night before The Santa Rosa Marathon I set two alarm clocks, one on my phone for 3:45 a.m. and a backup one on my Garmin Forerunner 10 for 3:50 a.m. I turned off the lights for bed at 9:20 p.m. and I had surprisingly little trouble falling asleep. Race jitters used to keep me up and anxious the night before a race, but I seem to have conquered those. I still get terrible jitters in the days leading up to a race, and the morning of, but sleep is such a precious commodity in my world that I have learned to drift off to sleep by reassuring myself that all the work I could have done is done, and my only remaining job is to sleep! I slept very well until 3:20 a.m. when I felt one of my children jump into the bed. But then the bed kept rocking and rolling, and I thought it must have been my two indoor cats fighting. But the rocking and rolling continued, and I woke up enough to remember where I was – alone in a hotel room bed, sans kiddos and sans cats. Earthquake! By the time my addled brain registered that fact, I thought for sure the rocking and rolling would stop any second. It lasted so long though that I really ought to have vacated my room on the second floor of the hotel (regardless of the fact that I didn’t have any pajama bottoms on). So much for my survival instincts!

Thank goodness we did not seem to have any injuries or serious damage in Santa Rosa, and we didn’t lose power like much of the Bay Area did. Turns out the earthquake was a biggie, a 6.1 centered not far from Santa Rosa. Just my luck I would be up north for the largest earthquake in 25 years!

There was no going back to sleep after that so the morning routine continued apace (ha, a little running pun there). For pre-race breakfast I had coffee with skim milk, oatmeal with a dash of sugar to make it palatable, a banana, and 16 ounces of Gatorade. I tried to finish all that by 4 a.m., two hours before the race was scheduled to start at 6 a.m., but I didn’t quite succeed. I then hustled into the race gear I had laid out to make Flat Angela, and I taped on my pace bracelet. I packed my phone, sunscreen, hotel key, and another 16 ounces of Gatorade and I was ready to go by 4:45 a.m.

As I pulled out of my parking space at the hotel, I saw another runner starting to walk the two miles to the starting line. I didn’t want to scare her but I took a chance and rolled down the car window. “Do you want a ride to the race?” She was stunned but quickly judged that I was not an axe murderer and she gladly accepted. I think I got the better end of the deal because Yara turned out to be a very nice person who kept me company until it was time to part ways right before the race. We parked in the parking structure at Sears ($3 and very convenient) and walked a couple blocks to the starting area. We hit the porta potty lines twice (I guess ladies do like to go to the restroom in packs!) and then I headed off to strip off my sweats (compliments of the Goodwill thrift store in Santa Rosa) and check my bag. The weather was great, 55 degrees at the start and yet the humidity took a little edge off the chill. I made it to the race chute with 15 minutes before the 6 a.m. start. Santa Rosa is a smaller race with 1,235 full marathoner finishers so there were no corrals; people placed themselves by the pacers or wherever else they wished to be. The race started on time, just as the sky began to lighten. I crossed the timing mat at a slow jog and hit “start” on my Garmin Forerunner 10 (my 110 died a week before the race, but that’s another story). We were off! Click here for Part 2 of the Santa Rosa Marathon 2014 recap!

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BQ Baby!

I’m still traveling home from Santa Rosa but I couldn’t wait to post my thanks to everyone who offered support to me in the comments on my posts leading up to The Santa Rosa Marathon. You all made me believe I really could go for that elusive Boston Qualifying time, and I did it! I hung onto the 3:45 pacer to come in at 3:44:26! I think I gave lots of people nervous attacks because my gun time went over 3:45, but that trusty RFID chip said I had 34 seconds to spare! I am still in a state of disbelief. If I let myself think about it too much I start to cry happy tears. Stay tuned for the full race report and review in the coming days!

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Flat Me

It’s gorgeous here in Santa Rosa and the weather is going to be perfect tomorrow – 55 degrees and overcast. I picked up my bib today from the expo at DeLoach Vineyards. Part of the course runs through the barrel room there:

The barrel room at DeLoach Vineyards today at the expo.

The barrel room at DeLoach Vineyards today at the expo.

Now I’ve got my bib and I’m all ready to go tomorrow. I even put together Flat Angela:

And you thought I was kidding about the cheetah undies....

And you thought I was kidding about the cheetah undies….

Now I just need to set my alarm for 3:45 a.m.!
 

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It’s the Tuesday before my next big race on Saturday, a half marathon. I’m doing my typical pre-race freak out. By “freak out” I mean there’s no hand-wringing, no crying, no tantrums, just a mild case of pre-race jitters that has me asking — yet again — “What have I gotten myself into?”

After a year of focusing on the full marathon, I thought it was a good idea to pick a race that I could run for “fun.” For the location, for the scenery, for the sheer joy of running someplace new on a closed course. So I chose a race put on by “Destination Races,” the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon. It runs through the vineyards of Santa Barbara county from Santa Ynez to Solvang. Sounds perfect, right? Well, yes. I think it will live up to its claim of being a gorgeous destination race. There’s just one little problem: me. I thought I could sign up for a race for “fun” and not care about my finishing time. I thought I could be happy soaking up the views and not care whether I clocked a PR. I told myself that even if I did care about my finishing time, I could look at it as a race where I cared less about the finishing time itself and more about where that time put me in relation to the rest of the field of 40-to-44-year-old-women-who-chose-a-race-that-has-a-wine-stop-on-the-course.

Yet again, however, running and racing have taught me some things about myself:

  • I’m competitive, not so much against other people, but against myself. I do want to get a PR, and I do want to better myself in comparison to the field (not because I care about beating other runners, but because I revel in improving my overall performance).
  • I enjoy training more than I enjoy racing. One might wonder why I sign up for races then, but the fact is that I like having a goal race on the calendar. I like having a training plan that builds up to a race. I like crossing off each workout on the plan.
  • I take each race a little too seriously. I don’t race that often, so when I do race, I care a lot about how that race goes. I use each finish time to gauge how the training is going and whether or not I am improving over time. (I think these things are true about many runners, it just took me a little while to realize all this about myself).

So why the heck did I sign up for a race with an elevation profile like this:

elevation profile Santa Barbara Wine Country

Of course not every race is going to be pancake-flat and “fast.” And the hills are what make for some of the best views along this course. It’s just that if I care so much about my time, I probably shouldn’t have chosen a race with total climbing of 764 feet! I have no clue how to pace myself when the first seven miles are basically uphill and the last six miles are basically downhill. I could run by how I feel, rather than by the pace on my Garmin, but if there’s anything else I’ve learned about myself it’s that I would run a lot slower if I just ran by how I feel! I am a very poor judge of pace, going out too fast at the start and running too slow thereafter. I can run “naked” for the occasional training run but I want and need my Garmin for a race.

(Just for the record, don’t think that I have ignored the course elevation profile until now. I have been hill training specifically in preparation for this course. I live in the “Heights” for goodness sake — I have run a hill or two in my day. And I have been quite dedicated to the training plan. If you look at the calendar last month, I worked out on every day but one. Some of those days were 15-25 minutes of strength training only, and were “rest days” from running or biking, but I did some form of physical activity every single day).

I’ve been running and racing for three years now. During that time, I have only run two official half marathons, my first ever big race, the 2012 OC Half in 1:55:10 (smashing my goal of a sub-2 half), and a training run/race for a full marathon, the 2013 Spring Blast Half Marathon in 1:53:34. I ran the first half of the 2013 Mountains2Beach full marathon in an unofficial time of 1:51:01. I believe I am capable of a time in the 1:4x range, given the right course and given the proper training and taper before the race. And I need that 1:4x as a confidence booster to prove to myself that I am capable of training for running a Boston Qualifying time in the full marathon. To BQ with a 3:44:59 in the full, the McMillan Running Calculator says I would need to hit a 1:46:54 in a half.

Maybe the gorgeous views of the Santa Barbara wine country will help me fly up and down the hills to a PR, maybe not. What I need to do now is re-focus on my original goals for the race. I thought I could enjoy a race for the scenery. I think I can! I thought I could set aside the goal of a PR to focus on doing my best in comparison to the field. I think I can!

Do you ever run a race just for fun? Just this past weekend I ran the iCureMelanoma 5K with my 9-year-old, and I have to say it was a lot of fun to run with her and not worry about my own race time. But unless I’m running with my kids, I run for the “fun” of pushing myself to a personal best.

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