Posts Tagged ‘race review’

Yesterday morning as I pulled out of my driveway at 5:55 a.m. to head to the Spring Blast Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, I still had a major case of race jitters. Usually my race jitters flare up the day before a race and I manage to beat them back into submission by race day. Not so this time. I had to resort to an out-loud pep talk with myself in the car: “You will do your best and that’s all you can do. You are nervous because you’ve trained so hard and you want this to go well. You haven’t tapered for this race, and it’s ‘just’ a training run. I know you want it to go well because that will boost your confidence for the full marathon, but really your goal is to do your best, enjoy the race, and not push yourself to the point of injury.” The self-talk sort of worked to calm my nerves, but not completely, as evidenced by my need to thank the nice people of Carl’s Jr. for the use of the restroom at 6:20 on the way to the race. And my need to visit the beach bathroom when I got there. But once I was parked in the right parking lot and made my way to where the race started, I did finally pull myself together and get my game face on.

I feel like I’ve been running and racing for a long time, but in reality it’s only been two years since I challenged myself to run 30 miles in 30 days. In those two years since, I’ve come a long way. Just last month I ran 133 miles in 30 days, and the month before that, 141 miles in 31 days. Still, I haven’t run many races. I ran my first half marathon just over one year ago at the OC Half (race recap here), and my first full marathon last November at the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race recap here). So, this Spring Blast Half Marathon would only be my second half marathon.

The race is a small event put on by Rocket Racing Productions, which is headed up by two runners themselves, Michelle and Mark. They put on low-cost, timed fun runs in Southern California about 5-7 times per month. That’s what’s so great about it — when I searched for a local half marathon taking place on the day of my scheduled 13-mile run, I easily found a match! And you can’t beat the price at $31 for the half, $42 for the full marathon option, $23 for the 10K and $34 for the 30K.

Parking is free in the lot at Sunset Beach behind the Travelodge. The race starts at the Huntington Beach multi-use path.

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

The 12 racers checked in with Michelle at 7 a.m. and Mark started the race with a countdown promptly at 7:15. There were no bibs or timing chips (a stopwatch is used to time the race from the starting call). I made a point to check out some of the other racers so I would recognize them on the course and I could give them a thumbs-up or a “great job” to cheer them on the way. The lack of people cheering along the course is the one downside to the race (well, that and the occasional smell of lighter fluid from the beach campers). The beach path is open to everyone and you would never know a race was going on. I love a smaller race but I’ve come to appreciate the energy boost I get from random strangers along the way! Thank goodness a lovely young woman saw some of us booking it at mile 7 and she called out: “You guys are amazing!”

The half marathon course consists of two 6.55-mile out and back loops on the course (the full marathon is, you guessed it, four 6.55-mile loops). While that might sound a little dull it wasn’t at all and it really helped break up the race into manageable pieces. The run out was into the slightest of headwinds with a low bridge at mile 2.5 and a little uphill to the turnaround cones. That meant that on the way back it was payback time with a speedy run back to the bridge and the flat course back to the aid station at mile 6.55.

All the goodies at the aid station

All the goodies at the aid station

I’d left my own special bottle of Fluid (with a cute little bow on it to identify it as mine) but there was plenty of water and Gatorade along with gels, bananas and granola bars on the aid table. I took my own green apple PowerGel with caffeine at mile 6.

After starting the race out at about an 8-minute pace I quickly reined myself back in to 8:35, the targeted pace for the training run. I kept up with that pace pretty well most of the way and only started to struggle on the slight uphill from mile 9-10. Once I hit that second turnaround near mile 10, I got a little boost from the downhill but it got harder and harder to keep pace. That’s where the pep talk started again (this time in my head). “Don’t give up the pace now. Keep going. Only 3.1 miles left. Leave it all out on the course. You can do it. Push yourself!” For miles 10 and 11 I pushed to keep it between 8:35 (target) and 8:47 (my pace from my first half marathon). At mile 12 I gave it my all for a big push to the end. I tried not to even look at my Garmin and just go as fast as I could go. I wanted to come in overall somewhere between 1:52:36 (an 8:35 pace) and 1:55:10 (my time from my first half marathon). I ended up hitting 1:53:34 (an 8:40 pace) for a PR by a minute 36 seconds!

While the race course was relatively easy, the race for me was tough. I pushed myself hard to hit the pace and it took all I had physically and emotionally. Of course I felt terrific emotionally when I finished, and even felt pretty good physically too. No injuries and just the usual hobbling soreness, part of which I fended off with an ice bath in this:

Nature's ice bath

Nature’s ice bath

I hit up the aid station for a banana and a granola bar and I chatted with Michelle and Mark, who both happen to be racing at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon too! Good luck guys and thanks for a great race!

Happy Sunday everyone (and a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother runners and triathletes out there!)

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My body finished racing the Brea 8K about four hours ago but my mind is still racing LOL! To sum up: gorgeous race weather (51 degrees, light wind), well-organized race, slightly hilly course, user error when I didn’t quite manage to hit “start” on my Garmin but that trusty GPS watch still paced me to a PR! In spite of my pre-race jitters and Garmin snafu, everything came together for a wonderful race.

I didn’t sleep well last night (although when I did sleep, I dreamt I was eating donuts and dreams just do not get better than that!) I don’t know whether it was the race jitters, the salt I had with the Goldfish I ate while I watched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for family movie night, or that little nap I took earlier in the day, but the night was not exactly restful. I should have added to the post on dealing with pre-race jitters: Do not panic if you cannot sleep well the night before the race. It’s the sleep you get two nights before the race that carries you through the event. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

I got out of bed at 5:15 a.m. and made plain oatmeal and coffee with almond milk. I drank about 20 ounces of water two hours before the race. I headed out the door at 6:50 and arrived at the race at 7:10 (gotta love a local race!) There were no lines at the porta potties (I call that a personal victory already) and by 7:15 I was chatting up my half-marathon running coach Stephanie and my classmate Tina. It helped to calm my nerves to talk with them, and it certainly didn’t hurt to hear about Tina’s 10-minute PR at the recent Tinkerbell half! Super impressive to cut off nearly a minute per mile!

Half an hour before the 8 a.m. race start, Stephanie and I did a warm-up jog around the first little loop of the race course. I like to do a dynamic warm up before all races but I do not necessarily warm up with a jog as well before longer distance races like a half marathon or full marathon. For an 8K, it helps me to jog so that when that starting horn goes off, my muscles are warmed up enough to tolerate a fast start.

In light of last year’s crowding at the start, I positioned myself closer to the front this year, right at the front of the 7-minute mile pack. Those were some dang serious (and nervous) runners and we all took off at a 6-something pace. I quickly realized that was too fast for me to sustain (as if!) and I dialed it back into the 7-minute range. My goal was to keep my pace between 7:39 and 8:00, aiming for an overall time under 40 minutes, and if not under 40 at least under my 41:35 time from 2012. As I said, I goofed at the starting line and did not manage to hit “start” on my Garmin Forerunner 110, but it still showed me my pace and I did eventually start it properly.

The course has some hills, nothing terrible, and I used the downhills to my advantage by keeping my feet quick and light, then powered up the hills at a steady pace, paying attention to keeping my effort level steady rather than pushing to keep up the pace up the hills. Just about halfway through the race there is a hill fondly named “Heartrate Hill” and that steady slow climb challenged me but I knew it would payoff with another downhill after that and we’d be over halfway done. With two miles to go I concentrated on keeping the pace steady in the 7s with only a few dips into the 8-minute mile range. With one mile to go, I pushed hard, and with half a mile to go I gave it my all. There wasn’t a whole lot left in the tank at that point, and I was super happy to round that last bend in the mall parking lot and see the balloon arch over the finish. I could see the clock said 38:30-something and I sprinted to see if I could get in under 39 minutes. I crossed the finish line and celebrated being done and frankly, not throwing up. Hooray for leaving it all out on the course (but not literally all, if you know what I mean)!

I’ve hit “refresh” on the race results about a million times today and finally my official results came up at about 6:20 p.m.:

Chip time: 38:42 (a big fat PR over last year’s time of 41:35)
Clock time: 38:52
Overall place: 431 of 2726
Women’s rank: 95 of 1466
Females 40-44 division: 5 of 180 <— Do you have any idea how happy this makes me?! Happy tears, that's how happy.
Pace: 7:46 minutes/mile = 7.7 mph

"SoCal's Finest Finish" lived up to its claim again this year. The expo boasted the typical water, oranges and bananas, but the main attractions came in the form of Slater's 50/50 hamburgers, Chilled Swiss Oatmeal (a European muesli made with low fat yogurt, rolled oats, green apples, bananas, currants, dried cranberries, and skim milk) from Corner Bakery, pizza from California Pizza Kitchen, Rubio's, Jamba Juice smoothies, and Farrell's ice cream to name a few. The expo offered something to please everyone. If chili doesn't appeal to you after a race, you can grab a chocolate chip cookie. Looking for something healthier? Try a whole organic apple from the local market. The only limiting factor for me was how much I could carry in my hands!

After more chatting with Stephanie and others from A Snail’s Pace running shop, I saw Mike and my girls looking for me. What a nice surprise! We got a quick family photo and headed out for brunch as a treat for everyone. TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Brea puts out an amazing brunch buffet. At $35.99 for adults, it cost more than the Brea 8K entry fee, but gosh darn it, the pecan cinnamon rolls alone made it all worth it. And the mimosas. And the cocktail shrimp.

All in all a great race day! I leave you with my favorite race sign from today: “That’s not sweat, those are tears from your fat cells crying.”

Did you race or run this weekend? Tell me about it!

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Brea 8K 2013 logoAre you racing the Brea 8K this year on February 24, 2013? I highly recommend the Brea 8K. It’s a well-organized race with a fun finish line expo that features tons of free food from many well-known vendors. The 8K (4.97 miles) distance is unusual and makes for a nice challenge — not so fast-paced as a 5K but not such a big commitment as a 10K or half marathon. The 2013 race will be the 22nd annual running of the race.

Race Fee: The fee for 2013 is $30 for adults and $25 for minors (there’s a $5 price increase after February 20). The kids’ 1K fun run is $12 and includes entry to the finish line food expo. I’d say this is a fair price for a well-organized race with a fantastic finish line expo. Plus, you can feel good about supporting this local race that benefits the arts and academic programs at Brea Olinda High School.

Packet Pick-up: You have two options for packet pick-up — on Friday evening at Brea Olinda High School or on race morning at Brea Mall at 6:30 before the 8 a.m. race.

Race Parking: Parking is free and could not be any easier at the Brea Mall and Brea Marketplace (near the Target across from the mall). I arrived half an hour before the race start and had no trouble finding a parking place within easy walking distance of the start.

Pre-race: You’ll find typical long lines at the porta potties but the facilities were adequate and close to the race start.

The course: The course has a few slight hills but I would not call it challenging. You can check out the exact route here. There are three water stations on the course. I carried my own water though so I cannot speak to how well they were managed. I can say that February makes for nice racing weather in Brea — not too chilly but not warm either. Bring a throw-away jacket for before the race and ditch it before the start.

Bling: Unless you make it on the podium there’s no medal for the race but I have to say that does not bother me at all. You do get a cotton t-shirt with race registration and there are some vendor freebies at the finish line expo in addition to the goody bag from packet pick-up.

Finish line expo: The Brea 8K boasts “SoCal’s Finest Finish Line” and I have to agree with that statement! There were all sorts of free food treats available in the massive finish line expo at the Brea Mall parking lot. Last year’s food sponsors included Panera Bread, Jamba Juice, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, ChickPita, Corner Bakery Cafe, Mother’s Market & Kitchen, Ralphs, The Melting Pot, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, Olive Garden, Hot Dog on a Stick, California Pizza Kitchen, Pinkberry, Tacos & More, Rubios, BJ’s and Sprouts. Just note that to enter the food expo, you have to have a race bib (so that means no family and friends unless they’ve registered for the race or the kids’ fun run).

Things You Should Know: Dogs are allowed to participate in the race if their owners keep them on a leash and clean up after them (although dogs are not allowed in the finish line food court). Strollers are also permitted (although for the child to enter the finish line expo she or he must be wearing a race bib as well).

Ways to improve the race: The only thing that bothered me was that I lined up with the 7- to 8-minute starting sign and there were a ton of people who were slower than that in that area. I ran the race at a pace of 8:21 and I should have started a couple people back from the starting line. I ended up dodging people, even some people walking from the start, for the first two miles of the race. Without setting up corrals I’m not sure how this could be improved, but it’s at least something to pay attention to as a participant.

Best part about the race: You’ve gotta love a well-done, community-supported race. I’ve never been to a better finish line food expo.

Would I do it again? You betcha! I’ll see you there this year!

For more on the Brea 8K you can read my race recap from the 2012 Brea 8K.

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The HITS Palm Springs triathlon takes place this coming weekend. I’m not racing it again this year since it’s too close to the marathon I did 19 days ago (no, I will not ever stop bringing that up in all its glory!) Instead, it’s time for me to flashback to last year for a recap and review of my first Olympic distance triathlon. It was my second triathlon ever and it included my first 10K run. I’m tempted to apologize for how wordy this summary is but gosh darn it, it just might help some other triathlon newbie out there and it’s fun (for me anyway) to peek back into my mind as a relative beginner.


In the days leading up to the triathlon I was nervous and wondering what I had gotten myself into and why I had gotten myself into it. It’s a huge challenge – mental, physical, organizational – and I hoped nothing would go wrong. It’s funny though, because the closer I get to the race start time the better I feel. It’s an accomplishment in itself to arrive at race day healthy, well-trained, and prepared with all the gear and race information.

On Friday Mike picked up the girls early from preschool and elementary school. By the time he did all that, I was done packing and double-checking my triathlon gear list. We left at 1:30 and had an easy 2-hour drive to La Quinta. The resort is gorgeous and the kids were delighted to see one giant Christmas tree outside and a few more inside the lobby.

While the kids played tennis with Mike and the ball machine someone had left on the court, I went out on the bike to make sure everything was in working order (both me and the bike). I ran for 5 minutes after I got off the bike. By that time it was already starting to get dark and we needed to head out to the horse park to pick up my race registration packet. First we swung by Lake Cahuilla so I knew that I would know how to get there in the wee hours of the morning on race day.

We got to the horse park at 5:30 and it was completely dark outside and freezing cold as we waited in line in the outdoor area. I got my race pack no problem and then we waited for the mandatory athlete’s meeting to start at 6. There was also supposed to be a dinner at 6, but they didn’t start serving the food right away. Mike and I were desperate to feed the kids so he went up to the food and helped himself, not waiting for the servers. I’m sure people were glad because the food kept the kids quiet.

The race director did a poor job on the athlete’s talk — too much rambling and not enough info, especially for us nervous newbies. I had questions and he only took 3 questions from the audience including one of mine. At least I learned that we had assigned spots in transition (unlike SheROX, where you just had to get there early and grab the best spot you could), transition wouldn’t open til 5 and not 4 like the athlete’s guide had said, and we’d be starting on the beach and running into the water. I didn’t find out until the morning what the swim would look like — where the buoys would be placed and how to do the two loops (more confusing than it sounds, as it turned out). He did introduce actor/triathlete/marathoner Mario Lopez, which was important (ha).

We didn’t get enough food because Mike could only carry two plates and by the time the servers started serving, the line was huge and we weren’t willing to wait in the cold. We went back to the room and ate leftover Panera.

Mike helped me get all the race numbers on all the gear properly. Stickers for the bike, my helmet, my transition bag, my race belt and my swim cap. “TriTats” for me — temporary tattoos for both my biceps, my outer left calf and my back left calf.

These cool race tats made me feel like a pro! I have no idea why my toenails look like they’re glowing. Pink sparkly nail polish maybe?

The tattoo applications actually took quite a long time. At least it distracted me from my race nerves. I packed all my gear and made sure I had everything. I almost forgot the parking pass I needed to park at Lake Cahuilla! After that we got ready for bed. I needed to be up at 4:30 a.m. and we set 3 different alarms just to make sure we had backup in case one didn’t go off like last time. Lights out at 9:30 and I was asleep by 10 so I got 6.5 hours of sleep. Quite good for the night before a race!

Race morning:

I got up with the alarm and Mike hit the “on” button on the coffee for me and went back to bed. I had coffee and instant oatmeal. I got in my swimsuit and sweats, double-checked my gear and headed out into the dark “night” at 4:55 a.m. I could see lots of stars in the clear desert sky. I saw a couple of other cars getting ready to go too. I followed my nav system directions for the 15-minute drive. Along the way I saw a car stopped at an intersection. The interior lights were on and the people were obviously looking at a map. I saw the bikes on the back of their car and I knew where they were going! I rolled down my window and gave them a “follow me” wave and led them to the park. I was worried I would steer them wrong but soon we met up with even more cars with bikes and I knew we were good. 🙂 I figured I earned some good race karma by helping those people. Everyone in triathlon is super nice. Competitive mainly against themselves, serious about the sport, friendly and helpful to other triathletes because we all know how much work it took to get to that point.

I found my spot in transition and was disappointed to see that it was the absolute last slot in the row, meaning that to get in and out I would need to travel farther than an athlete who had a lucky assignment on the aisle. It not only costs precious seconds in the race but makes it harder to find your spot when running in for T1 or T2 (that would be foreshadowing right there).

I got my timing chip, which was attached to a velcro strap that I was to wrap around my right ankle on the outside of the wetsuit (which meant that you’d need to take it off to get the wetsuit off, then remember to put it back on for the bike — costing more seconds and it could potentially be a huge problem if you forgot to put it back on!)

I went to the bike support tent and had the guy pump up my tires with air. He said I shouldn’t pump them up to 120 like the number on the tire says; that’s bursting point. He recommended 105-115, the softer they were the more grip I’d have on the road, which is good for someone like me who isn’t so confident in the turns. He said I could even go down to 95 in rainy conditions. Then I had him run through the gears and put it in second gear for me for the race start.

As I was setting up, another triathlete in my row asked me what was said at the athlete’s meeting. I told him he didn’t miss much. He asked me if we were getting out of the water on the swim at the end of the first loop. I hadn’t heard that — that clearly should have been discussed at the meeting! I cornered the race organizer and asked him that. Sure enough, there were 4 buoys for the Olympic distance. One on the shore, 3 in the water (with smaller buoys in between). To do the full two loops, we’d need to go to the 3rd one in the water, swim back to shore, get out on the sand and run around the shore buoy back into the water.

By the time I got all set up it was 6 a.m., the time the officials were going to close the in-and-out of cars from the park. If I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t get out to go back to the hotel to get Mike and the girls (they needed the car while I was at the race).

I called them at 6:15 on the way to make sure they were up. We were cutting the time close. I got there at 6:30 and got my swim gear on. It’s hard to remember what stays at transition and what I need to keep for the swim — my race cap, goggles, anti-fog for the goggles (which I put on the night before just in case), my swimsuit, wetsuit, Glide for under the wetsuit. Parking pass again.

We all headed out around 7 and got there around 7:20 for a 7:30 race start time. I had plenty of time to talk to some of the other “green caps” on the beach. The sprint was underway. Apparently there had been some scary panic attacks at the start of the sprint swim. The water was 60 degrees and even with a wetsuit that was quite cold. Unfortunately this was the first event this organizer had put on and he didn’t hire enough lifeguards! They had pulled volunteers from the vendors and even some of the Olympic racers to lifeguard for the sprint! Good karma for one racer who was 19 years old and ended up still coming in 6th place overall, even after treading water as a lifeguard before his event started.

I chose not to do a warm up swim in the water. I think that was wise. The people coming out of the water were absolutely shivering. The organizer called us around and said he’d be saying “Set!” and then sounding the horn.


Immediately after the talk I walked to edge of the water, dipped my toes in, went to back out, and I heard the organizer say “Set” and blow the horn! Totally caught me and all the other racers off guard. I didn’t realize he was starting so fast — we hadn’t even all gathered on the shore.

Gorgeous but cold Lake Cahuilla for the mass swim start

I took off and was in a good place — quickly getting toward the front and having enough room to swim in spite of the fact that all 191 racers were starting at once, not in age group waves like at other events.

The water was cold and choppy due to high winds. I took in a few mouthfuls of water during the race and each time I was grateful that it was fresh water in the reservoir and not saltwater from the ocean! I’ve known racers who have thrown up from ingesting saltwater on ocean swims. The swim was tough for me. I don’t know if it was the cold or the waves or both, but it was really tough. The only saving grace was that the water was relatively clear, better than Mission Bay. My mantra on the swim was “motorboat” — said to the three-beat arm strokes: “Mo-tor-boat! Mo-tor-boat!” At a few points on the swim I did backstroke to catch my breath. Backstroke is way faster than breaststroke for me, and I noticed that even when doing backstroke I was faster than most others doing freestyle. Still, I wanted my time to be under 30 minutes and I missed that by a minute some. 31:11.686. There is plenty of room for improvement on the swim for me.

T1: T1 was slow for me. 00:04:40.980. A long run to the transition area, then a rough time getting my wetsuit off. It’s hard when I’m panting from the swim and having trouble balancing to step on my wetsuit and pull it off. Again a tri-suit would have helped because it took me a long time to get on my bike shorts and long-sleeved shirt (the sleeves are tough — short sleeves are easier but I needed the long sleeves in the cold). I decided to put my bike gloves on too, so I wouldn’t freeze, but I think I would’ve been okay without them. I didn’t think I took 4 minutes in transition — it goes by fast for me. I thought I had a strong run with the bike to the bike start, and I got pedaling right away and then clipped my shoes in after I got going — a definite improvement over my first tri.

Bike: I passed several people on the bike — maybe 6? Nothing like SheROX where I was passing 10s of people. But this was 24.8 miles — double the length, and a far more competitive field. A couple people passed me — I’d trade spots with people and I think only a couple ended up ahead of me by the time we were done.

The bike course was not well marked. There were police officers at every turn and I finally realized I’d just have to rely on that fact to guide me that there was a turn, and then I’d yell out to the officer, “Which way?!” Sometimes there’d be a biker ahead of me to follow but often we were spread far apart. At one point an officer warned me that an upcoming turn was slippery due to sand on the road. I have wiped out in sand before so I was grateful he was warning everyone. And another officer was sweeping the sand off the road.

I was disappointed to see a farmer spraying chemicals on a field next to the bike course. I don’t want to know what was in that bright green spray!

The winds were high and certain parts of the course were really tough. I had a mantra on that part: “Head down, power on! Head down, power on!” Over and over again. That’s where tri-bars would have come in handy for the aerodynamics. It’s not enough to keep my head down, it would have helped to keep my arms in.

My feet were numb for the entire bike ride. I occasionally tried to pull with the top of my feet rather than push down on the pedal, just to try to get some circulation going and to use different muscles. That helped but not much. I later learned that other racers were also numb, and it was due to the cold, cold water. Swim booties would help with that.

Note the people starting out their run as I’m starting out on the bike!

I had Rain Berry Gatorade in my race bottles and a peppermint stick Luna Bar. I could hardly choke down any of the Luna Bar. I’d tried it before in training and liked it then. On the race it tasted like dirt. I had to force myself to eat a third of my bar at one point and another third during the second half of the bike.

I had put the power bar in an elastic slot on my race belt, which worked fine for holding it but once I took it out I couldn’t get it back in. FAIL. I stuffed it in my shorts. 🙂 Final time for the bike: 01:19:25.949 — 18.77 miles per hour. Not bad in all that wind.

T2: 00:02:04.585. T2 would have gone better had I not missed my row to rack my bike. I probably lost 20-30 seconds that way. Things look different in the light of day and I should not have relied on “I’m in the row by the big lights and the flag” and should have counted the number of rows from the “bike in” until my row. I also lost time when I clipped on my running water bottle and started running and the bottle promptly bounced right off the belt! I had to run back and pick it up. Obviously the belt wasn’t tight enough. I’d practiced this at home so I’m not sure why it wasn’t set right. I couldn’t get it tighter and didn’t want to risk losing the bottle again so I carried it the whole way. Good thing I had it though because I don’t like stopping for the aid stations and I heard that the aid stations later ran out of water anyway!

Run: I wore my visor to protect myself from the sun and that turned out to be a mistake. It was so windy that I nearly lost the visor two times and ended up keeping my head down against the wind. That made my already horrible running form worse. Mike took pictures of me toward the end of the run and I look like a hunchback! I was proud of my performance on the run though. I wanted to get under an hour and I came in at 00:55:35.306 — that’s 8:56 minutes per mile and 6.7 miles per hour for 6.2 miles! At the end of the bike, a race volunteer had told me I was 14th among the women. That heartened me! I wasn’t wearing any kind of watch and didn’t have a bike computer and there no clocks or even mile markers on the course. I had no clue how I was doing, aside from a swim volunteer having told me that I was around the 30-minute mark. I was grateful that guy said I was 14th. Three women passed me on the run (no surprise there) but a few must have been faster in transition too, because I ended up 20th. People were really nice on the run — often saying, “Good job!” or “Way to go!” or “Looking good!” etc. I couldn’t speak so I finally resorted to giving people a thumbs-up. 🙂

At one point during the run there was a sign that said “Run Turnaround.” Thank goodness I was following some people and they knew to keep going beyond that sign (which was for the sprint distance but not marked as such. At that point I’d been racing for over 2 hours and I had no idea where I was on the run — I didn’t think I’d gone 3.1 miles yet but I couldn’t be sure.) Finally I made it to the actual turnaround and was pleased to find that I felt pretty good for that point in the race. I picked up the pace toward the end and finished strong. My mantra, in addition to “Head down, power on!” same as the bike, was “locomotion” said to the 4-beat running steps: “lo-co-mo-tion.” My legs feel like a train, powering me on down the course. That’s even more true on the bike, but the “locomotion” mantra helps me keep my legs going on the run. I never wanted to stop or even to walk — I had trained well. I would love to improve my running form though, and get even better on the run. For now I was really happy. I was super fast on the finish. Total Time: 02:52:58.506.

Coming in for the finish with a smile and a thumbs-up!

Post-race: I didn’t hear the announcer and Mike had to tell me what my time was. I was just glad to be done and so so happy that it had gone as well as it had. It’s a feeling of relief, joy, and accomplishment. A race volunteer took my timing chip and gave me a luggage tag (instead of a race medal – very cool!) I got a banana and oranges and water, and Mike had brought me some OJ. I felt good. The biggest thing I noticed was that my lungs felt congested. My muscles were not sore exactly, just a little achy and if I stopped moving for any length of time, I felt like the Tin Man needing some oil. Once I got going again I was fine. I felt better after this Olympic than I did after the sprint. All that training paid off!

We waited around a long time to get the official results. A nice race volunteer suggested that I change out of my sweaty clothes so I didn’t freeze, and I took her advice. I had a sweatshirt and a blanket in the car and I got warm in those. It was sunny and relatively nice out but still only in the 50s and windy.

At SheROX the individual times were available for printout immediately, and that even included the rank by age group. At this race, it took an hour and a half before they even gave us the times and that didn’t include the rank — all I knew was I got 1st in the 40 age group (not the 40-44 age group — they had actual awards for each year of age). I had thought I was in the individual age group as 39, the age I was on 1/1/11, but either I got that wrong or they changed their minds. Whatever, it worked for me because I was the 1st of the two 40-year-olds! I got my plaque and then we went back to the hotel. I later learned I came in 20th out of 88 women total (top 22.73% to be exact! Can you tell how proud I was, given that this was my first Olympic distance tri?)

I talked to a couple of other Olympic distance racers after the race and they’d both had the same impressions I had — the race had some organizational glitches, and the water was super-cold and their feet were numb the whole time from the swim until about 15 minutes into the run (exactly what I’d told Mike!)

Lessons learned:

– Practice more open water swimming, both to get used to the waves and to practice sighting, and to get used to swimming in the cold. If the water temp is going to be 60 or below, consider buying swim booties.
– Get a tri suit and aerobars if I’m going to commit to do more races. [Done!]
– Don’t wear bike gloves unless air temps will be below 40.
– Figure out a better solution for race fuel and where to store it and practice that several times before the race.
– Count the number of rack rows to get to my row from the “swim in” and “bike in” towers.
– Ditch the run visor. Decide whether to put on sunscreen in transition.
– Work on running form. [Done! Half marathon training and marathon training took care of improving my form, although I continue to work on it].
– Think twice before signing up for a first-time organizer event. This organizer needed to do a better athlete talk, hire more swim lifeguards, do a better job of marking the course turns and turnarounds, ask the farmers not to spray on race day, NOT have it so the course had runners and bikers all together and going different directions on the same sections of course along with cars too, have better supplies for the aid stations, do a better job on reporting the race results.

I am glad that in spite of all that I had a wonderful race experience. And I did hear that the half-iron and full iron distance races both went much better the next day — those glitches were worked out for the really big races. I would do this race again now that the HITS organization has a full year of races under its belt. La Quinta is gorgeous, the resort is a fun place to stay, the freshwater lake for the swim is nice in spite of the cold, and the bike and run courses are relatively flat and scenic.

Have you done a HITS race? Have you competed in a triathlon at any level?

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It’s been a full week since the Santa Barbara International Marathon and the race has taken on a surreal quality in my mind. Did that really happen? Did I really have so much fun running 26.2 miles?! Indeed I did! I give high marks to the race and definitely recommend it.

Expo: Packet pick-up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara was convenient and easy with lots of parking available. There weren’t any goodie bags (aside from the virtual online goodie bag offers) but I am happy with the white v-neck technical tee. Plenty of vendors — the kind you’d expect to see with all types of running gear but also local groups like the pet shelter that tried really hard to send my kids home with a dog. 😉

Tip: If you’re driving up from Los Angeles on Friday night for packet pick-up, be sure to leave long before rush hour. We left Orange County at 4 p.m. on Thursday and didn’t arrive in Santa Barbara until 4 hours and 30 minutes later (the drive should have taken just over 2 hours). You really want to be driving through downtown LA by 3:30 or sooner or make arrangements with someone else to pick up your packet with a copy of your photo ID because you won’t make it in time.

Race day shuttles and drop-off: I opted to have my family drop me off at Dos Pueblos High School for the full marathon start and the drop-off was smooth and convenient. Plan to walk a few blocks to the high school.

I felt sorry for the people who opted to take the shuttles and even arrived plenty early to do so. They ran into a bit of a snafu with too many people waiting for too few shuttles from the UCSB parking lot. Race organizers have acknowledged the issue, apologized and vowed to plan better for next year. I think the race is still growing and on top of that, they picked up a bunch of runners who were planning to run the New York City Marathon before it was cancelled. Kudos to the organizers for offering those runners a discount registration!

Pre-race: I’ve never been to a better race starting area. Getting to wait inside the high school on a cold morning, and use the indoor restrooms, was a treat. There were plenty of porta-potties outside too.

The course: The race starts out at the high school in Goleta and makes a loop around the suburbs and through Isla Vista by some UCSB off-campus housing. Tip: Plan to bank some extra time in the first 13.1 miles to account for the hill you’ll hit at mile 23. The first half of the course has some nice downhills and flat sections and the views of the Santa Ynez mountains are gorgeous. Around mile 15 you head onto a bike path. It worried me a bit that it might be crowded on the narrow path but at that point it was not a problem. With just 1,375 marathoners the pack had spread out by then. The path is pretty and the support from spectators along the way is great. Shortly after mile 19 you are back out on the roads again. Take advantage of the downhill at mile 22 to prepare yourself for the 0.4-mile climb at mile 23. It’s not terribly steep but many runners opted to walk. The reward at the top is 2.2 miles of downhill with spectacular views of the ocean.

Mile 24 Santa Barbara

Peekaboo ocean! It’s all downhill from here to the finish!

Plus the last mile was lined with American flags, an inspirational sight for Veteran’s Day weekend. Best of all, some military members in uniform came out to cheer the runners on at the home stretch (gentlemen, were you trying to make me cry?! Thank you for your service to our country and your support!) The race finishes on the track at Santa Barbara City College. I found I liked sprinting to the finish on the track — it gave me a bit of a boost at the end.

The finish line expo: At the finish I received my medal and was offered an ice bag (nice touch!) In hindsight I should have taken advantage of the offer to tape the bags to my legs. I kept walking though and made my way to the refreshments. I had a banana, Sun Chips and a Clif bar, and water. I didn’t see the Fluid replacement table although I hear there was a booth around the corner.

Ways to improve the race: There’s always room for improvement at any race. (1) Shuttles — I have faith that will improve next year. (2) Responsiveness from the organizers. As the race got closer and closer I sensed some frustration from people trying to get into contact with the organizers either through the Facebook page or email. (3) I would have loved to see more food options at the finish line — orange slices and muffins would have added a nice touch to the bananas, chips and protein bars at the finish. Also offer the electrolytes at the same table.

Best things about the race: It’s a manageable size with only 1,375 full marathoners in 2012. The course is gorgeous and it makes for a lovely destination race. I have to give a shout-out to the official pacers. Craig Prater did an amazing job in the weeks leading up to the race by making his presence known on the Facebook page and posting answers to questions and uploading inspiring photos from various points on the race course. Jill Christ was the 4-hour pacer and while I wasn’t running with her (I ran ahead for the first 5 miles, stayed right behind her until mile 21 and lost her as she kept on pace for the 4:00 mark) I could tell she did an excellent job.

I didn’t stay at the host hotel but I negotiated a 20% discount with a high-end hotel (Spanish Garden Inn) and absolutely loved it. We spent a 4-day weekend in Santa Barbara and it made for a nice weekend for my whole family.

I recommend this race for: anyone who likes a scenic course that has some downhills, flats and one significant uphill. It’s not necessarily the course I would choose for a beginner like me but I love a small(er) race and a destination race and it was great for me. I didn’t get the sub-4 I wanted but I achieved four of five of my marathon goals and I had a blast (you can read my race recap here). If you’re going for a PR you need to make sure you plan your pace well — train for some hills and as I said, bank some time early in the race for the hill at mile 23. Monica at Run Eat Repeat chose to run Santa Barbara after the NYC marathon was canceled and she PR’d with a 3:53!

Did you run this race in 2012 or have you run it in past years? What’s your opinion? What’s your favorite marathon course?

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Spoiler alert: I highly recommend the SheROX San Diego sprint and super sprint triathlons and I suspect the rest of the SheROX triathlon series is fabulous as well. I’ve done this race twice and I enjoyed it both years.

Registration: I registered early in March for the race in October, and paid $83.25 for the sprint.

Expo: You need to make three stops when you enter the outdoor expo — packet pickup, body marking, and t-shirt and goody bag pickup. I love the v-neck style technical shirts I’ve gotten both years, although the super bright pink this year is a little bold for me.

SheROX technical shirt

I fear my camera does not do justice to the bright pink.

It’ll make a good safety shirt when I ride the bike because people will have no trouble seeing me in that thing! There were several booths selling technical shirts, triathlon tees, wetsuits and swimsuits. Luna Bars gave away samples of their flavors, free crispy bars for the kids, and posters for the kids to make race signs. Last year the San Diego sheriffs department was out recruiting at the expo! Love that!

Parking: Parking at South Shores Park is convenient, close, and plentiful for both the expo and the race. On race day it closes at 6:30 before the 7 a.m. start of the race.

Location: You can’t beat the location in San Diego, right next to Seaworld, at South Shores Park on Mission Bay. This makes a great destination race with plenty of nearby restaurants and attractions.

Hotels: The Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa is less than five minutes from the race start. It’s a lovely hotel, not super-deluxe but nice for the $152 per night group rate. Tip: request a first floor “villa gardenview” room rather than a room in the tower. If you don’t mind being on the ground floor, it’s amazing to open your door to the patio and gardens and have a view to Mission Bay.

Transition: Transition gets an A+. Well set up and well marked, with bright yellow signs on the racks for the wave numbers, and clearly marked BIKE IN and BIKE OUT etc. banners.

Swim course: I love the in-water start on the swim course. Once you’re allowed to enter the water, be sure to swim out to the start line or you might not make it in time before the starting horn! The water in Mission Bay has been calm both years. It’s saltwater and a little murky, but it’s not exceptionally cold and it makes for a great swim course. It can be challenging to follow the buoys for the sprint vs. the super-sprint, but the race organizers do something very helpful — they send a boat out to demonstrate the course right before the race. Even with that though, I watched one of the elite triathletes one year turn left at the super-sprint buoy rather than continue on to the sprint buoy. (It’s comforting to know even the pros make mistakes sometimes!)

Bike course: The bike course takes you out on Fiesta Island. It can be intimidating due to the some of the turns on the course and I highly recommend going out on the island either on bike or in car to preview the course. Just make sure if you’re doing the sprint that you make the turn to the right to go out toward the campground. The course map has not shown that little turn each year. The course is flat with only the slightest of hills here and there. I do not like that the course requires two loops on the island (it can be intimidating to beginners to have to remember that) but the signage and volunteer direction is good.

Run course: Again, two loops on the run for the sprint. Nice course along the bay though and not hilly. You pass the one aid station twice over the run.

Vibe: Because it’s an all-women event, it gives off a great all-for-one and one-for-all vibe that’s welcoming to beginners. Indeed, the race site says that about half the participants are new to the sport. I have always found triathletes male or female to be a helpful, generous bunch and that’s certainly in evidence at SheROX events. There is a mentor program where experienced athletes pair with beginners to offer advice and support via email and additional training opportunities. My sponsor Megan helped me tremendously by answering my questions, giving me tips, and meeting up with me on race day to get me settled in transition.

I also love that SheROX partners with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund as its official charitable partner. Team Hope participants can raise funds in support of OCRF. The race even offers a special wave for cancer survivors. Makes me cry every time when we cheer those ladies at the start.

Finally, SheROX San Diego is a great spectator course — it’s relatively easy for family members and friends to catch sight of you on each portion of the course.

Post-race: One of the best things SheROX offered was a warm hand towel to dry off after the race. I’d never seen that before (not even at the race in 2011) and I hope they keep that feature! The food offered after the race is plentiful and good: bananas, oranges, two kinds of muffins, juice boxes and electrolyte water. I love that you can go straight to the race booth to get a computer printout with unofficial times.

Ways to improve the race: While I love this race and highly recommend it, there’s always room for improvement. I have four suggestions for the race organizers. (1) Invite food trucks to race day so family and friends can snag breakfast or a snack while they spectate. (2) Correct the bike course map to show the slight turn to the right out toward the campground on Fiesta Island. Without that marked, people previewing the course go straight instead of turning right at the Y in the road. I heard women during the race saying, “We didn’t practice this before!” (3) At the swim start, you’ve got to enforce the starting line. Make the women stay in line with the white buoy under threat of disqualification if they “drift” out past the start. It’s ridiculous to see athletes cheat by going up to 10 feet ahead and blocking the athletes at the starting line. (4) In 2012 with the rain, the bike course was wet. As I stopped at the dismount line I saw two women fall as they were physically stopped by race volunteers. Volunteers grabbed the bikes to stop them at the line, and the bikes slipped right from under the women. As an athlete, I’d rather be disqualified or penalized for crossing the dismount line than physically injured on a fall from the bike.

Conclusion: Love the race, highly recommend it, would do it again. Thanks SheROX!

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