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Posts Tagged ‘race report’

On a cool and beautiful Saturday morning in February, 87 hearty souls raced through the desert to complete the 2017 Death Valley Marathon. The course runs through spectacular Death Valley National Park along the same road traveled by the infamous Badwater 135 ultra marathon.

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View of the starting line on Highway 190.

Instead of the national anthem, the race director led us all in a more appropriate and moving rendition of America the Beautiful.

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Marathoners and their friends gathered for the 8 a.m. start. You can play “Where’s Angela” and find me in the purple top toward the front of the group.

Before the race, I worried that the out-and-back course might be a bit dull, with the same view for miles. I needn’t have worried, as the park is gorgeous and the course winds through the valley with ever-changing views of mountains to the east and west. Also, while the course boasts less than 325 feet of elevation gain, that number is deceptive. It felt to me like we were usually on a slight uphill or downhill grade on rolling hills and rarely running on just flat pavement.

The course roadway is open to park visitors, but I found the vast majority of drivers to be extremely respectful of the runners. We ran on the west shoulder at all times, and while that meant a little jockeying for position at the beginning of the race, the runners soon spread out and by the second half, I often found myself running alone through the desert. Spectators are not allowed on the course, and aid stations are only every three miles. The stations were well-stocked but I thought the Gatorade was a little too watered down (that is foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch that).

I really enjoyed the first half of the course. The problem for me came around mile 16 when my calves started cramping. I can only speculate that I undertrained for the race or underfueled during the race, or some combination of the two. I had brought my own homemade sports drink that worked fine for me in training but obviously did not do the trick in the race, and the Gatorade on the course didn’t make up for it in the final miles. My splits went from a super-consistent 8:52.6 and 8:52.4 in miles 8-9 and 8:58.8 and 8:58.9 in miles 14-15 to 13:56 for mile 21 and 15:03 for mile 24! At one point I considered whether I wanted to drop out of the race (that might have been the time I heard the raven caw above me and wondered if that was a vulture coming for my carcass when I dropped to the ground. I might have gotten a tad bit dramatic in my suffering). I asked myself if I was going to injure myself by continuing. When the answer was no, I asked myself if I would feel better if I stopped, or better if I finished. I knew for certain that I would feel better if I finished, so I set my mind to it. I decided that I needed to take the focus off my cramping, painful calves, and concentrate on something that didn’t hurt. Somewhere after I really hit the wall in mile 20, I started counting my arm swings. My arms didn’t hurt, and I felt more powerful and in control as I counted each time my right fist punched forward. Long story short, by the time I finished the race, I had counted over 4,200 swings of my right arm. I got into a zen zone by the final miles, and brought my pace back down from 15:03 to 12:38 for mile 25 and 11:37 for mile 26! Mike brought the girls to the finish line, and they gave me a burst of energy as I ran the final 0.33 in a pace of 9:46.

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The most special moment of the race, as the girls ran with me to the finish.

I finished in 4:28:01, a full 51 minutes off my PR of 3:36:58 (recap of the Phoenix Marathon here). I had hoped to come in under 4 hours, but no such luck. My final stats:

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The first place male and female finishers came in at a blazing 2:49:40 and 3:21:08 respectively. Including all of the 87 finishers, the average finish time was 4:39:40.

If I had to do it over, I would train harder (though I thought I had trained well, with 3 20-milers under my belt), and carry Gatorade instead of my homemade sports drink. Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would have opted to do the half marathon and had more time to view the rest of the national park, which truly wowed me with how beautiful it is in the winter. [Edited to add: a couple of weeks after this race, I ended up getting some blood work done and I found out that I had iron-deficiency anemia. No wonder my race time was significantly off my best time! I’m happy to report that my running has started to get back to normal after some iron supplements prescribed by my doctor.]

I was very happy to find that the finish line fare included trail mix with nuts, raisins and M&Ms (heaven!) and a pretzel mix too. I picked up my cotton race t-shirt, which I will wear with pride. While I didn’t finish anywhere near the time I hoped, I am unusually proud of myself for finishing this race. The marathon always has something to teach me, even in my 8th one. This time I learned that the mind really can control the body. My mind carried me through 10 miles after my legs started cramping. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a pretty impressive display of sheer determination.

It’s been three weeks since the race and I’m back up to running 10 miles for my long run this weekend. I am still thinking through what I’d like to take on next. Do I choose another marathon after three particularly hard experiences (REVEL Canyon City, Boston and this one)? Or turn to a different challenge? All I know is I like having a big goal, so I’d better start planning.

What was your hardest race and why? Have you been to Death Valley? (If not, you should go — in the winter!)

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I had a fantastic morning with my family and friends at the iCureMelanoma 5K in Fullerton, California today! It’s a great community event for runners, walkers and anyone interested in supporting melanoma research.

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What started last year with our core group of book club members on Team BookIt! grew this year to 53 people on Team Beckman Coulter. With the generous help of the Beckman Coulter Foundation, our team raised $5,418 for melanoma research at University of California, Irvine (UCI)! We won the top prize for fundraising, and it felt really great to contribute towards the $100,000 that was presented to UCI at the end of the race. We thought we were in the running for the prize for largest team but Team Mac came in first with an amazing 107 members who came out to honor the memory of Michael Gerard MacDonald, a man lost too soon to melanoma in 2009. So really Team Mac’s victory is a huge win-win and it’s simply wonderful that so many people participated to support much-needed melanoma research!

My eldest daughter and I ran the race in the competitive wave that started promptly at 7 a.m. The course runs over challenging terrain — a mix of grass, road, and dirt. It forms a lollipop shape as it runs out to and around gorgeous Laguna Lake, which shades you with beautiful trees along the park path. I cannot say I’d recommend it as a “fast” course but man you wouldn’t know it when you look at the finishing times. The winner came in at a blazing 18:54! I managed to pull off a PR of 23:44 for 1st in my 41-50 age group of 33 women. And my daughter also set a PR (by 4 minutes!), coming in at 24:11 for 3rd in her age group!

My husband and middle daughter had fun on the course in the 8:00 a.m. open wave with many of our friends. There were tons of great vendors at the finish line and we feasted on pizza, Italian ice, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and protein bar samples. Of course there were also sunscreen samples on hand, and my girls were thrilled to find free nail polish samples at the Solfingers booth. I am definitely going to check out the Solfingers line of sun protection gloves and arm sleeves. I’ve been wearing my plain blue Phoenix Marathon arm warmers for sun protection but the Solfingers sleeves and gloves offer several super cute designs.

I’ve got my sights set on another 5K at the Downtown Anaheim 5K Run on June 13, 2015, and we are already planning to come back next year for the 10th Annual iCureMelanoma 5K!

What do you use for sun protection? In addition to wearing a visor, sunglasses and as much clothing as I can tolerate, I like Coppertone Sport sunscreen. The dermatologist Dr. William Baugh who puts on the iCureMelanoma 5K recommends Neutrogena as his favorite brand. (Tip: he says it does not matter whether you use the spray or cream formula of sunscreen — the best sunscreen is the one you will use! If you have trouble with sunscreen running in your eyes he recommends a silicon-based sunscreen for athletes). I also try as much as possible to avoid peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and I choose a shady route whenever possible (not always easy in sunny Southern California).

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In an unusual form of race report, I’m going to take you through my thoughts about the day and the 2014 La Habra 10K as it unfolded for me.

Midnight: Darn it, why can’t I sleep? I must still be winding down from seeing Divergent. Dang that movie was tense. Good thing I slept nine hours last night.

5:30 a.m.: I see Mike is up for his zombie run. I’m glad I don’t have to get up yet. I hope my oldest girl isn’t too mad about getting up that early! I hope she has fun!

6:00 a.m.: Wasn’t it just 5:30 a.m.? Time to get up. It’s still dark out. I hope the younger girls aren’t mad.

6:05 a.m.: Thank goodness the 9-year-old woke up the 5-year-old for me. I love having older kids. Oh look, she even got her dressed! Bonus! Man, I should have shaved my legs last night. Do I care enough to shave them now? No, and besides, it hurts when you sweat on newly-shaven legs.

6:15 a.m.: Coffee with cacao powder. Yum. Oatmeal all around. The oatmeal tastes good, not like cardboard, I must not be too nervous.

6:45 a.m.: Sunscreen? Water? Garmin? Race belt? Timing bib? Sunglasses? Bathroom trip number 4? We should be out the door by now.

7:00 a.m.: Darn it, Mike took my car. Back inside for his keys. Let’s go girls! The race starts at 7:30!

7:10 a.m.: How awesome is it that this race has child care for the kids while the adults race? Oh look, they get to make Rainbow Loom bracelets! And bounce in the bounce house! They’ll be fine without me. Gear check. Easy peasy. Time to warm up with a slow jog and a few strides. Now I’m really feeling those race jitters!

7:20 a.m.: The diaper dash is done and it’s time for the Kids 1K. Oh look, a girl won the race, just like at the Encinitas Mile! Love it! These kids are so cute!

7:30 a.m.: National anthem. I promise to put my hand back over my heart after I check that my Garmin is working and ready for the race start!

7:35 a.m.: Lining up by mile times. How cool is it that I know my mile time is 6:34?! I love that I ran that Encinitas Mile. Okay, that lady cannot run a 6:34. I love a local, small race but I wish people would follow race etiquette! Just chill, don’t say anything.

7:36 a.m.: We’re off! Don’t get trampled in the first turn at the end of the parking lot! Here comes the first steep hill! If there ever was an incentive to go out slow and steady, this is it! Round the corner and up another, more gradual hill.

Running Mile 1: I knew this race was hilly — I did the La Habra 10K before back in 2012 — but dang it’s hard to pace myself correctly with these hills! I need to keep the pace under 8:06 to PR, and under 8:02 to break 50 minutes. The race calculator said that based on my mile time I could race a 10K at 7:37, but that assumes a flat course, and this ain’t flat! Just keep it under 8:00. Well, under 8:00 average.

Running Mile 2: You can go over 8 on the hills. But not by much! Book it on the downhill! Relax your shoulders! Remember how it looked like your shoulders were hunched up by your ears in your Encinitas Mile photos?! Relax your shoulders again! Unclench your fists! This is the hardest mile on the 5K loop. Don’t burn out, just pay attention to your form. Watch out for the kid who keeps sprinting and then walking. How cool that that guy behind me just started coaching that kid! THAT is why I love a small, hometown race.

Running Mile 3: Okay, this is better. Plus the crowd is thinning out. Hey, that lady just complimented me! We’re keeping pace. Yes, I can tell you our pace! It’s 7:27. Yay for the downhill! Are you running the 5K or the 10K, ’cause I’m running the 10K and if you’re running the 5K, you’d better book it, don’t stay with me because I’m running an even pace for the 10K! We’re almost there, good luck!

3.1 Miles, End of First Loop: Hey, I think I just got a PR in the 5K! [Yes, chip time 24:08, a one second PR! Every second counts!] I hope I didn’t go out too fast. Oops. But I feel good. Now let’s see how I handle the hills on round 2.

Running Mile 4: Breathe. Keep a quick turnover on your feet on the hills. Even effort, not even pace on the uphills. Let your legs go on the downhills. My legs feel great, it’s my lungs that are dictating the pace!

Running Mile 5: Darn mile 5. Good thing I remember from mile 2 how hilly this is. Just keep it as close to 8 as possible without burning out.

Running Mile 6: Shoot, that lady passed me! And I don’t think I can pass her back. I hope she’s not in my age group. I don’t think so. [Nope, she’s in 30-34 and I’m in 40-44]. I’ll try to stay as close as possible but run my own race. I know I’m doing my best. Maybe I can pass that older guy who keeps walking on the hills. I’m not gaining ground on him though.

Last 0.2 Miles: I can see the finish line! It’s a straightaway here through the parking lot. Don’t trip on the speed bumps! It would be so awful to face plant on the asphalt! Sprint! Don’t throw up! Does the clock say 49 minutes? Yes it does! You’re going to break 50 minutes! RUN! There’s that lady who was running the 5K! How sweet of her to say “There’s my friend!” and cheer me on!

Finish: My Garmin says 49:02 for 6.35 miles. Way to run the tangents there, NOT! An extra .15 miles. It didn’t help that you ran into a wall of 5K walkers at the 5-6 mile mark. Oh well! You got a PR! Hey, there’s that guy you tried to catch. Fist bump! Good race! Nice to meet you, Ming! Ooh, banana and oranges and water! Cookies from Corner Bakery — better save those for the girls. I should say hi to that lady, too. Nice to meet you, Julie! How’d you do? Good job! Let’s check our times. The 5K split is posted. I did PR in the 5K! Oh they’re announcing the 10K awards. I wonder if I won an award in my age group. There’s the medal table. The lady says my name’s not in the top 5? Bummer!! Oh wait, that was the 5K list, I got first in my age group in the 10K! No matter that there were only four of us 40-44 year olds in the race, I got me a “golden medal” as my youngest would say. Plus 6th place female overall. And my official chip time is 49:03 for a big fat PR by 1 minute, 23 seconds. That’s a 7:53 pace. Man, I wonder what I could do with a flat course? I want to run another 10K! And a 5K! I bet I could break 49 minutes in the 10K. Just 4 seconds to shave off, I could do it!

Photo compliments of my 5-year-old.

Photo compliments of my 5-year-old.

Overall Race Review: The La Habra Races (Diaper Dash, 1K, 5K and 10K) are great hometown races that benefit some wonderful local causes: The Children’s Museum at La Habra, The City of La Habra summer concert series, and the La Habra High School Cheerleaders. Packet pick up is easy the night before and also available on race morning. I paid an extra $12 for the tech shirt upgrade and it’s a really nice, black long-sleeved tech shirt, plus I still got the regular, white cotton race shirt. The race volunteers and police support on the course were great. I could not have been more impressed by the timing company. I’ve never seen results posted more quickly at a race and especially online. By the time I got home at 10:30, all the results from the 5K and 10K races were up. Nice work, Gemini Timing! I have also never been to another race that offers a Kids Club while the adults race. My kids loved it — both the activities they got to do and seeing the runners race. This is a hilly course, a challenging course, but a fun and well-organized race!

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You can read about the fabulous start to my third full marathon in Long Beach Marathon Recap — Part I.

As you might recall I’d run the first half of the race in 1:51:57. My goal for the race was to beat my personal record of 3:57:29 from Mountains2Beach. In order to do that I’d need to run the second half in 2:05:31 or less.

Miles 14, 15, 16 (8:31, 8:34, 8:30)

The first half of the Long Beach course is so nice that it’s no insult to say that the second half is not as spectacular. On this section you’re running through a nondescript part of the city. I simply focused on keeping pace and running steady.

Miles 17, 18, 19 (8:35, 8:59, 8:28)

Around mile 17 you enter the Cal State Long Beach university campus. It’s nice to see some college kids out early on a Sunday morning to cheer on the runners. Unfortunately that hill during mile 18 is tough. On the plus side I used the subsequent downhill to pick the pace back up and break through the wall that I started to hit around mile 18 in my last full marathon.

Miles 20, 21, 22 (9:06, 9:31, 9:41)

Here you’re passing back through that same part of town.

Thumbs-up at Mile 20

Thumbs-up at Mile 20

It got harder and harder for me to keep running strong around mile 20. I wouldn’t say I hit the wall though, because when that happened in my last full marathon my times dipped into the 10s and 11s, whereas here I managed to stay in the 9s.

There is a steep, quarter-mile hill as you approach mile 21. I am actually pleased to see that split of 9:06 for that mile.

I struggled to take in liquids around this point, both because my body was tired of drinking that much and because I was working so hard by this time that I was having trouble catching my breath after running and drinking at the same time. Somewhere around mile 21 I made the executive decision to walk for about 5 seconds every mile so I could drink a few much-needed sips of sports drink and then resume running. I have no shame about not running the whole way and in retrospect I consider it a very good decision to adopt the strategy to walk for my fuel breaks.

I also grabbed a couple of cups of water on the run and dumped them over my head. The sun was out in full force by this time and I was feeling the heat.

Miles 23, 24, 25 (9:50, 9:57, 10:04)

Right before mile 24 the full marathon course joins back up with the half marathon course at its 10.5-mile point. I’m sorry to say this about what is overall a very nice course, but this joining back up with the half marathon course just plain stunk. By that point in the half marathon race I’d say the vast majority of half marathoners were walking. Maybe it just seemed like that to me in my frustration with the giant sea of people in front of me. It was such a tough time in the race anyway and it was not fun to deal with having to dodge people who were walking in the middle of the course and did not have the courtesy to walk to the right-hand side.

Mile 26 and the Finish (9:41, and for the last .44 by my Garmin: 8:48)

In spite of the crowds I managed to pick the pace back up a bit for mile 26. I basically told myself to embrace the pain and let my legs go.

It was a huge relief when the course split off into two different chutes just before the mile 26 mark and very few runners split off with me to the full marathon chute. At that point the course turns off Ocean Boulevard and heads down a very welcome hill right into the finish chute. I turned on the speed and with a huge kick at the end I brought my pace down into the 8s. I felt like I was flying at the finish and it was wonderful to hear the announcer say my name!

Of course as soon as I crossed the timing mats I came to a stumbling stop and could barely walk. Funny how you can run at what feels like a blistering pace for 26.2 (or 26.44 miles by my Garmin) miles and yet struggle to walk as soon as you stop running.

I was so thrilled to be done that I forgot to stop my Garmin until after I got my medal. I knew I’d beaten my former personal record of 3:57:29 but I wasn’t quite sure by how much. My watch said 3:54 something by the time I stopped it. I later got an email from the timing people saying my time was 3:53:27, but it turns out that was my gun time and my official net finish time was 3:52:42! That’s a PR by 4 minutes 47 seconds. That might not sound like much but it’s huge for me. My goal pace for the race was 8:35 and I ended up averaging 8:52. I achieved my “A” goal of running a personal best time, and also achieved my “B” goal of not bonking. While I ran the second half of the race significantly slower than the first (about 9 minutes slower, in 2:00:55 compared to 1:51:57), I wouldn’t say that I hit the wall, certainly not anything like I did in my second marathon.

Recovery

Best of all, I met up with my family and I felt well enough to walk back to the hotel with them without visiting the medical tent this time. I now believe that the uncontrollable shaking I experienced in Ventura after Mountains2Beach was due to underfueling. This time I stuck to my pre-race and race nutrition plans and that paid off. I ran just as hard this time, but with more training and better fueling, I stayed quite strong through the end and my tank wasn’t empty when I finished.

I feel a need to give an unsolicited shoutout to the C2O Coconut Water sponsors. That cold can of cononut water tasted so good at the finish line that I drank the whole thing right down within seconds. I don’t think I could have tolerated another sip of traditional electrolyte sports drink and I was grateful to have that instead. There were other great treats given out at the finish line too but frankly I could not tolerate eating any solid food. I had exerted myself so hard, left it all out on the course, and — let’s just be real here — I was trying not to throw up. So it was: coconut water = liquid gold; my favorite post-workout protein bar = dirt.

All in all I’d call it a hugely successful race. Ask me if I’d recommend Long Beach to a friend and I’d say yes! (More review to come in another post. I know what you’re thinking but yes it is possible for me to have more to say!)

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The La Habra 5K/10K is coming up on Saturday, March 23, 2013. So far I’ve stuck to my goal to resist signing up for the race but I can feel my resistance weakening. I got a flyer that offered registration for the 10K for only $15 rather than the regular price of $35. I’ve got 13 miles on the training schedule for that day. Should I run 6.2 of them for the race? Decisions, decisions…. In the meantime, I’m flashing back to my recap of last year’s race. It’s a nice, small-town race to benefit The Children’s Museum at La Habra, the La Habra Concerts in the Park series and the La Habra High School cheerleaders. This year the organizers have hired a new chip timing company to replace the problematic one from last year. One of the really nice things about this race is that it offers childcare for children ages 2-13 while their parents race.

At the time I ran this race last year, I was training for my first half marathon. I’d recently run the 2012 Brea 8K, and was still recovering from a groin strain. Here’s my recap, plucked from my 2012 journal:

“Straight to the numbers:
Distance: 6.2 miles / 10K
Time: 51:23.03 (chip time); official time: 51:29.03 – they gave awards based on the official time]
Pace: 8:16 minutes/mile
MPH: 7.25

F40-44: 1st of 17 [ETA: the results on the web later said I was 3rd of 12 – very disappointing; ETA again: I just checked again and I am back to 2nd of my age group, 2nd of 11 – I’ve written to the race results people and the race coordinators about my concerns]

I am super happy with the race. No injury, and the best time I hoped for. It’s a new PR over my 10K triathlon time, which at first seemed like a slam dunk given I wouldn’t have to swim and bike first, but then I was worried with how hilly the course was and how my leg had been bothering me.

My 10K pace was faster than the 8K pace for the Brea 8K. I plugged the 10K time into the race pace predictor for the half marathon and it went like this:
6.2 miles at 51:23 for a pace of 8:17 predicts
13.1 miles at 1:53:28 for a pace of 8:39. How much would I love that?! [ETA: my half marathon time for the OC Half ended up being 1:55:10, pretty darn close to the prediction!]

I set my alarm this morning for 5:30 a.m. I got about 7 hours of sleep. The night before I had prepared coffee and oatmeal and a banana and I ate those right away so I’d have a couple of hours to digest them before the race. I’d laid out all my clothes and gear too. I got dressed in plenty of time and remembered my GPS running watch and chip timer. The race didn’t start until 7:50. I parked at the nearby Vons and, after using the nice bathrooms there, I walked to the race start at Fashion Square as a warm-up, then ran in the parking lot a bit to get the stiffness out. When I arrived the 5K people were just getting ready to start, and then it was our turn about 15 minutes later. Small crowd, very mellow, but a well-marked and well-staffed race. Tons of police officers to direct traffic on the course. I was grateful for them. I had lined up toward the front, maybe five to six rows of people back, and it was right where I should have been. I didn’t have to dodge many people on the way up the first hill and I never felt slowed down. I took off a little fast at the start but soon settled in. The fast 10Kers quickly caught up with the 5K walkers. That wasn’t ideal but the course was plenty wide and it didn’t cause a bottleneck, thank goodness. The hills were tough. It’s basically uphill for the first 1.8 miles and then downhill the next 1.3 miles. I did the first 5K loop in 25:22.9 minutes (about 48 seconds slower than my November 5K race) and the second 5K loop in a 26:00.4 minutes. I used the handheld water bottle my friend Holly had given me and it was perfect for the 10K distance. I loved having the GPS watch — it told me when I was on pace or not. I am a bit amazed that a nighttime 4-mile training run on the treadmill at 6 miles per hour that feels tough can translate to a 6.2 mile race at 7.25 miles per hour. Adrenaline, caffeine, time of day, rest and training, all paying off. After the race, while I waited for my official time, I jogged super slowly around the parking lot for a couple of miles, and walked some more after that. Combine that with my warmup in the morning and I got in the extra 2.8 miles of training needed for the 9-mile half marathon training I missed that morning.

The results took nearly an hour to post. It was neat to be able to look them up on a computer at the race booth. Those results said I came in 2nd out of 17, but when I went to get my medal the official results said I got first! I was surprised but not too surprised because earlier I had heard them announce the 5K overall male and female winners and they actually goofed up the winners and had to revise it. So uncool!

When I got home at 10, my 3-year-old saw me through the sliding glass door and she said, “You got a golden medal!” My 7-year-old said, “I knew it! I knew it! I knew you’d get first place!” Mike reported that the girls had had a debate about whether I would win the whole race. My 7-year-old knew it was possible I could get a medal in my age group. It was just fantastic to be greeted enthusiastically by my family when I got home. Mike was amazed with how well I’d done. He was worried I would exacerbate my injury and he’d been counseling me to go slow. It’s nearly impossible for me to do that in a race. I do not want to tank my chances to even compete in the half marathon, but I listened to my body and pushed as hard as I felt comfortable, and I got lucky.

I took an ice bath. Not really an ice bath but the water comes out so cold from the tap that it’s hard to force myself to sit down in it! Stayed there 10 minutes while I ate a Dutch Baby pancake with maple syrup and watched “Who Do You Think You Are” on the computer (LOVE that show) [ETA: So bummed that show was canceled]. Then I took a hot shower and my legs were stinging with going from the cold to hot! I am quite sore now but not injured (not any more than before anyway, no worse for the wear). I have been trying to move around every once in a while to clear the lactic acid from my legs. Mike had a fire going in the fireplace for the girls and I rested on the couch in front of the fireplace for a long time. I nearly fell asleep. I am pretty darn tired, that good kind of tired when you are happy with the effort your body has made.”

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Brea 8K 2012 logoWith the 2013 Brea 8K coming up on Sunday, February 24, I’m flashing back to my experience at last year’s race. To give you some context, I’d been running for 11 months at that point. I was 40 years young. I’d done a few 5Ks, a sprint triathlon, and an Olympic distance triathlon. I had just started training for my first half marathon, and I was recovering from a groin strain injury in my right leg.

I went to bed at 10 p.m. and got up at 6 a.m. to get ready to race. I left the house at 7:15 and got there at 7:30 for an 8 a.m. start time, cutting it a little close given the line at the porta potties! But I had time to make it to the start line with a few minutes to spare and I happened to meet up with my half marathon running coach Stephanie. She is so nice. She chided me for running the full 6 training miles yesterday and said I only should have done two. 🙂 She also coached me on how to protect my pulled groin muscle from further injury — she told me not to lengthen my stride when I went up the hills — to keep my stride quick and short and not overtax that muscle. Good advice. I felt great during and after the race.

There were 4,500 people registered for the race [2,853 finishers I found out later] and even though I stood with the 7-8 minute mile starters, there were tons of walkers and beginning runners who stood there too and should not have been there. I did a lot of passing for the first two miles of the race. Frustrating. I made a mistake trying to pass someone too, totally my fault but she made me feel bad about it. She was listening to her music and couldn’t hear me overtaking her on the right, and while it’s my duty to keep out of her way as I overtook her, I thought she knew I was there. My bad. I said, “Sorry, sorry!” and she said, “Yeah you better be sorry.” I didn’t feel quite so sorry after that!

The course starts on a straightaway and makes a loop through a business district by the Brea Mall but then turns into the suburban neighborhood. There were some slight hills but I would not call the course challenging (aside from the fact that an 8K is 4.97 miles of course!) There were plenty of spectators and some funny official race sponsor signs.

I was cheered on by Mike and the girls. They showed up to surprise me on their way to go skiing for the day. First they drove by right around mile 2, and then they pulled over and stood on the sidelines to cheer for me. That was so nice! Mike saw a couple of his co-workers too.

My chip time was 41:55 for a pace of 8:21 per mile and an average 7.17 miles per hour. Not bad for an injured, tired woman!

Place overall: 689 of 2853
Gender place: 181 of 1618
40-44 Female division place: 17
Of 40-year-old females: 5th of 39
Of females from my city: 1st of 8 (hey, I’ve got to celebrate my “victories” where I can get them!)

At the end of the race someone called my name and I turned around to see Mike’s co-worker Jennifer. He didn’t even know she was running the race so I was surprised to see her there and so very glad I remembered her name. 🙂 We enjoyed the post-race food — quite the spread of vendors. I had a banana, oranges, water, a slice of BJ’s pizza and a small Jamba Juice strawberry-banana smoothie. I started to get really cold as the sweat evaporated off my running shirt, and I took that as my cue to drag myself away from all the free finish line goodies and head home.

All in all it was a great experience and I’m glad I signed up for the race again this year! Who’s in it with me? If you’re interested in the 2013 Brea 8K, take advantage of the 10% off discount code from the Race Grader coupon code page (scroll down to the Brea 8K entry and create a free Race Grader account if you do not already have one)!

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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.

Pre-Race Nutrition

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.

Race Start

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.

Dos Pueblos High School gym

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.

Marathon course

Gorgeous lemon orchards with a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains

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.

Santa Barbara Marathon Mile 7

A peek at the Pacific Ocean at Mile 7

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.

Santa Barbara Marathon beach view

How’s that for an inspiring view for the last mile and a half?!

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.

marathon finish

Feeling strong and happy at the finish!

Have you run a marathon before? What was your experience like? Are you training for a marathon now?

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