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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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Imagine the satisfaction of completing your first half marathon. Then imagine the satisfaction of beating that finishing time and setting a new personal record. Then double all that satisfaction and you just might get to the level of satisfaction I felt as I watched my 14-year-old and my husband complete their first half marathons at the Fontana Days Run last weekend!

About five months ago I encouraged Mike and Shannon to start training for a half marathon. I chose the race, the Fontana Days Run, because it offered a gentle downhill profile, the timing was right with the race taking place on June 4 a week after Shannon graduated from 8th grade, it was inexpensive for a half marathon, it was just a 45-minute drive from our house, and we could pick up our race packets on race morning.

I wrote out a training plan for Mike and Shannon to incorporate into their busy tennis schedule. They play 10-15 hours of tennis per week, so I figured they could get by with three runs per week: two shorter runs of 4-5 miles (one easy, one with some hills or informal speed work) and one long run on the weekend that gradually built to a 13.1 mile training run and tapered to an 11.7-miler and a 6-miler in the two weeks before the race. Everything seemed to go well in training, although I had no idea what pace they should target for the race. Shannon set the pace for the long training runs, and that generally averaged out to about 11 minutes per mile. I knew Mike and Shannon wanted to break 2 hours for their finish time, and that would require a pace of about 9 minutes per mile. Could they really run two whole minutes per mile faster in the race than they ran in training? I encouraged them to go out at a comfortable pace and not let their legs fly too fast on the initial downhill (the race has a drop of 2,125 feet from start to finish).

Unfortunately, a heat wave hit Southern California in the week leading up to the race. The race day high was 100 degrees in Fontana. The temperature in the mountains at the 7:30 a.m. race start was about 68 degrees F and the temperature at the finish in Fontana at 9:30 a.m. was 82 degrees. That further muddied the waters as to what pace Shannon and Mike could be expected to run. Here’s a chart from Runner Academy that estimates the impact of hot weather on running pace:

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So I expected them to run about 30 seconds per mile slower in the heat than they could have if we’d had ideal race day temperatures.

 

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As you can see in this photo of me it was quite sunny at the start.

Without fanfare or much warning at all, really, the starting gun went off and Mike and Shannon set out at a comfortable pace. I carried my iPhone and used the MapMyRun app to keep track of our pace, but I kept the data pretty much to myself the whole race. The first few miles of the course run down the road through the San Bernardino National Forest and it’s simply gorgeous!

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After the first few miles though we were in full sun and by mile 5, I really started to feel it. There were adequate aid stations but some just had water and not Gatorade. Thank goodness I brought my own sports bottle and could refill it at the aid stations every 3-4 miles. Given the unusual heat that day, the volunteers drove around in a golf cart and handed out wet washcloths which I appreciated. I coached Shannon to run through the aid stations and just grab a cup of water and dump it on her head. Then I handed her my bottle of Gatorade to drink every mile or so. This worked very well.

 

Mike ran just slightly ahead of Shannon and me, and he seemed to have an internal, innate sense of pace. I mean, just look at the consistency of these splits!

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The course is downhill but it’s so gradual that it never feels taxing. The last seven miles are a straight shot into the town of Fontana, which means you don’t have to worry about running the tangents. It’s not the most scenic, but it’s fantastic for a PR attempt or a first-time race.

 

By about mile 10 I knew that Mike and Shannon could come in under 2 hours, and I started encouraging Shannon to keep up the pace and not let off. She had the best attitude the entire race and never complained. We caught up to Mike around mile 12 just as his calves started cramping due to not taking in enough Gatorade. I passed him my bottle and he was able to revive and keep running. Shannon sprinted to the finish to come in at 1:54:21. I was one second behind her with a huge grin on my face! Mike clocked 1:54:49.

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A happy Mike at the finish line (and some random guy’s rear end. My photography skills can use some work). 

I could not have been more proud of Mike and Shannon. They blew away my best hopes for them and did not seem at all affected by the heat. And for the icing on the race cake, Shannon came in first in her age group!

 

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Later in the week, I interviewed Mike and Shannon separately about their experiences. I probably should not have picked the day of their peak soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness peaks about two days after the race). They didn’t have much to say, but what they said warmed my heart.

Me: Are you glad you did the race?

Shannon: Uh-huh.

Mike: Yup.

Me: Did you meet your goals?

Shannon: Yeah.

Mike: Yes.

Me: Would you do another half marathon?

Shannon: Yup.

Mike:  Maybe.

Me: How did I do as your coach?

Shannon: [Thumbs-up.]

Mike: You were A+. It made it easy. It made it so we could not fail. We were going to meet our goals no matter what. I give you 99% credit.

 

Ahhhh! What a relief. They had a great race, came out of it uninjured, and were happy with the results. And for those wondering about whether or not it was a good idea for a 14-year-old girl to run a half marathon, I can say in our experience it was a very positive, safe, healthy experience for her. She had a checkup with her pediatrician this week including blood work done, and everything came back normal. And today, only 6 days after running the half marathon, Shannon won the Girls 14 and under division of the 18th Annual Laguna Niguel Junior Open Tennis Tournament!

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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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In the days before the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, race jitters got the best of me and I fretted over the course elevation profile and whether or not I could hope for a PR (1:53 or less) or better yet, break 1:50.

The course elevation as recorded by my Garmin. While it might not be perfectly accurate, I'd say it's about right!

The course elevation as recorded by my Garmin. While it might not be perfectly accurate, I’d say it’s about right!

You can see why the elevation gain of 764 feet intimidated me in spite of the net elevation loss. I’d chosen the race because the timing was perfect for me — it fit in my full marathon training for Santa Rosa — and the location is convenient and beautiful. But as I discovered, I don’t really run races for “fun” — I run for the joy of racing hard and doing my best, all while enjoying the privilege of getting to run someplace new on a closed course.

It turns out I needn’t have worried about the difficulty of the course. The race ended up being everything I hoped for and more. The course is absolutely gorgeous — so much so that I asked my family and friends to tour it with me by car after the race because I wanted to see it again and I wanted to show them all. I have never run on a more beautiful course (for the record, this is my 22nd race or so, but only my third half marathon). It starts in the nice little town of Santa Ynez and quickly heads out into the wine country, past vineyards and horse stables and farms, up Corkscrew Hill and down Ballard Canyon to the finish line in charming downtown Solvang.

The weather was gorgeous too — in the low 50s and sunny. The forecast predicted winds of 21 miles per hour (!!) but it turns out those winds only kicked up later in the afternoon.

So what about those hills? Yes, the general grade was noticeably uphill for the first seven miles, with a few rolling hills along with way, capped with the challenging 0.6 miles up Corkscrew Hill. But surprisingly, I did not find it as difficult as I thought it might be to maintain my goal pace on that first half of the course. I knew what to anticipate, and if you have prepared with some hill training before the race, the hills are totally manageable and dare I say, rewarding to conquer. The real reward, though, comes when you get to fly down the canyon for the next four miles! I haven’t had so much fun racing in a long time. The canyon is spectacular, with hills covered in yellows and greens and dotted with a few buffalo!

I’ll take a minute (pun intended) talking about pace, which is probably only interesting to me and anyone else who plans to run this course in the future. I wore a pace band (tip: print it, cut it out, and use clear packing tape to cover the front and back and then — this is the key — around the edges to seal the sides from sweat). I targeted a pace of 8:19 or better in the hopes of hitting 1:49 overall.

The first mile ended up at 8:21 and I quickly realized I’d started a little too far back in the pack. While it’s always better to start slow and build some speed, I dodged more people at the start than I’d like (especially in the first sharp turn right after the start). After that I settled into my own race and found myself pretty comfortable at a good pace: 8:10, 8:02, 8:17, 8:12, 8:34 — an average of 8:16 for the first six miles.

This was my first race in which I relied solely on the course aid stations for water and electrolytes. Aid stations were positioned about every 2 miles and that was perfect for me. I’d grab 2 cups of water or Accelerade and walk a few steps while drinking, then pick up the pace again. I took the one gel I’d carried with me at mile six.

Corkscrew Hill proved challenging but I simply pictured myself on one of the hills I’d bested in training and soon it was over with an average pace of 9:06 for mile 7. Then the fun began. You can tell by my pace alone that I loved the decline for the next four miles: 7:47, 7:31, 7:55, 7:54.

When the course evened out again around mile 11, any slight incline felt like a hill higher and harder than Corkscrew Hill, but then again, any and every race starts to get tough at that point — that’s nothing new or unusual. There are two inclines that I recall, but I pushed hard to maintain my best pace with 8:42 for mile 12 and 7:54 for mile 13. At mile 12.5 I really felt like slowing or outright stopping but I wasn’t about to give up then! Frantic calculations in my head told me that if I could hit a certain pace I would come in under 1:50, or a slightly faster pace under 1:49. I pushed it so hard, and when I came around the final corner in Solvang and I could see the finish line arch, I sprinted in at a 7:20 pace for a final time of 1:48:02! That’s a 5-minute PR over my second half marathon, and a 3-minute PR over my unofficial half marathon split at the Mountains2Beach full marathon! Two people came up to me separately after the race (one man and one woman) and said I had done a good job on pacing and that they had tried to keep up with me. That made me so happy because I have told other people that exact same thing on more than one occasion at other races and it was just such a compliment to have someone congratulate me on my race that way.

I later learned that 1:48:02 put me in 22nd place in my age group (F40-44) of 303 finishers, so the top 7.26%. Even better when you look at all the female finishers (1,777), I came in 103rd to put me in the top 5.8%!

The finish line expo was great with plenty of food, water, electrolyte drinks, and bags of veggie and egg chips, and small bowls of Amy’s brand chili (which I carried around until I recovered sufficiently to tolerate eating it, and then it was the most delicious post-race food ever)! I caught a race transportation bus back to the parking lot at Santa Ynez Valley High School and was back with my family by 10:15.

I highly recommend this race. It’s expensive for a half marathon (I paid $126 with the online service fee) but it’s a great race with a limited field of runners (just over 2,500 finishers?) in a spectacular setting. As I said, the challenge of the course elevation is more than balanced out by the thrill of running down Ballard Canyon at a faster-than-usual pace past stunning views. It would be really fun to get a team of friends together to run the race and celebrate at the wine tasting festival at the finish line ($20 for a wine glass to taste wines from 15 local wineries). I didn’t partake in any wine (not even at the on-course wine stop around mile 6!) because I just wanted to get back to my family, but I could see how it would be a fun way to celebrate your finish with friends and adult relatives.

Did you race this weekend? What’s your next race coming up? My next big race is the Santa Rosa Marathon at the end of August.

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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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Somehow I got it in my head during this crazy month of NaNoWriMo (current word count: 33,550 words) that I could sign up for a race and run it “just for fun,” using it as a training run. I get bored running the same old routes, and I love running someplace new. So why not take advantage of the free race registration I won for the 1st Annual City Farm Turkey Trot 10K, right?

Well, it turns out I am pretty much incapable of running a race “just for fun” (people who know me well are probably saying “duh” right about now). I tried, I really did, but when I woke up at 5:30 a.m., my race jitters trembled on high alert. I drank a quick cup of coffee and headed out the door by 6. On the 40-minute drive to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, I ate as much of a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a banana as I could stomach, which turned out to be not much with those darn race jitters. I enjoyed watching the sun rise, and with little traffic at that hour I arrived at Griffith Park without hassle.

Parking at the race start at The Autry, a museum of the American West, was easy, free and abundant (there’s additional free parking at the Los Angeles Zoo across the street).

Back in the Saddle Again

“Back in the Saddle Again”

Mother Nature blessed us with perfect running weather — high 50s and overcast. Earlier in the week the daily high temperature had hit 94 degrees, so we got lucky!

Packet pick-up had been offered the day before at A Runner’s Circle in LA, but you could also pick up your bib on race day — a huge plus that saved me from spending an hour and a half in the car on Friday. I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and did not have to wait to get my bib. The reusable goody bag came with a protein bar sample, some coupons, and a plain white tee with the turkey logo printed in orange. They’d run out of my size, which does not really bother me, it just means my daughters now have another large cotton nightgown!

How could I best describe the size of this inaugural event? Let’s call it “a three porta-potty race” (and note that I never had to wait more than five minutes in line).

The master of ceremonies for the event, the actor Alan Naggar, was a hoot and kept us all entertained both before the race as we awaited the start, and after the race while the results were compiled. I also very much enjoyed and appreciated the pre-race warm up led by a charismatic, fit young woman. It felt like a wonderful community event as nearly the entire crowd participated in the warm up. I’ve never seen that happen before at a race, and it put a smile on my face.

The race started and finished in the parking lot by The Autry Farmers Market. This small stretch of asphalt was the only pavement for the entire race:

start and finish City Farm Turkey Trot

Within yards the course veered left onto a short stretch of grass, then followed the wide, hard-packed dirt path around the golf course and sections of the Los Angeles Zoo. At some points on the trail the surface softened into loose sand-like patches, but I found it all easy to navigate. The paths were so wide you could drive a car down them, and the course elevation was flatter than many road races I’ve done. It was a trail race in the most basic sense of the word — a race on a dirt surface as opposed to the road. If you’re new to running on trails or you’re looking for a trail race personal record, this is a great race for you. If you’re a die-hard trail runner who wants some challenges and the rewarding views of a hill climb or two, you might not be happy with the race (and you might want to check out the Griffith Park Half Marathon Trail Race, as reviewed there by Striding Mom). The most challenging part of the race came at a small creek crossing, where if you timed it right you could hop across on two carefully placed sand bags. There’s a short part of the race that parallels the freeway for a bit, and you do need to watch out for “horse apples” here and there, but otherwise I found the trail to be scenic and enjoyable.

Overall I can’t say enough good things about the race. For a first-time event, the City Farm organizers did a fantastic job coordinating the race. I had no trouble following the course, which I had worried about because the first loop follows the 5K race course, then branches off for the full 10K course. Aid stations were well-stocked and well-placed, and the signage was appropriate and manned by volunteers. My only suggestions for next year (and if you know me, you know I never can resist offering suggestions for every race to improve in my race reviews) are for organizers to improve the monitoring of who completed the 5K versus the 10K (apparently some racers switched courses at the last minute — something out of control of the organizers but perhaps it could be monitored at the 5K turnoff by observation of the race bibs) and the recording and dissemination of the race results. Race results should be posted the same day of the race, and should be segregated by 5K versus 10K, and delineated by gender and age groups (not just the top three winners by age group, but listing all the Women ages 40-49 and their placements in that group, for example). But seriously, I do not criticize the organizers at all. It was a fun community race to support the cause of reducing obesity. I would absolutely do it again if the race fit into my schedule.

And as for my personal performance, you ask? My glowing review might just have a little to do with this:

3rd place finish at City Farm Turkey Trot

That’s right, that medal shows I came in 3rd place in my age group, the old lady field of women ages 40 to 49. Can I just tell you how ridiculous I felt waiting around to see whether or not I placed in my field? Thank goodness I actually received a medal! I later deduced that I came in 3rd of 15, the benefit of a three-porta-potty race. While I waited for the results, I enjoyed the post-race oranges and bananas and protein bars, and a free full-sized Voskos Greek yogurt sample from a booth at the Farmers Market. I also took advantage of the fact that the restrooms at The Autry opened up and I could change into dry, warm clothes after the race.

If I have the opportunity to do the race again in the future, I would try to make a day of it, bringing along the family to shop at the farmers market, then touring the Los Angeles Zoo. It’s a great cause, a great first trail race, and fun community event.

P.S. My time was 50:26.8, a PR for me at the 10K distance over my La Habra 10K road race from when I first started racing about two years ago).

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