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

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

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Females 40-49 age group: 9 of 113

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

All finishers: 94 of 664

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

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

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

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Don’t miss the thrilling recap of the first part of the Mountains2Beach Marathon here. And now the race continues….

Miles 18-21 (8:34, 9:02, 9:23, 9:39)

I saw Mike and the girls again at mile 18 and I felt strong at that point. If I kept the pace under 8:46 for miles 19-26.2 I was on target to come in under 3:45, but it was not meant to be. I slipped from 8:34 for mile 18 to 9:02 for mile 19. It was right around mile 18 that the 3:45 pacer passed me and I hung in behind him for dear life for another mile or so but could not keep up. In spite of (because of?) taking a gel with caffeine around mile 18, I hit the wall and my splits got slower from there on out.

Near mile 18 the trail goes through some more industrial sections and is completely exposed to the sun. Last year’s race (I hear) was more overcast but this year we were getting beaten by the sun. The temperature wasn’t more than 65 degrees down in Ventura and there was a breeze, but I wouldn’t have minded some clouds! At mile 21 the course stops declining and hits the beach streets and boardwalk in Ventura. That is a really rough section of the course emotionally and physically. After the downhill miles from 0-21, the flat might as well have been uphill. You pass the finish line at mile 21 and still have 5.2 miles to go! I knew it was coming, I’d read several other race reports and studied the course, but you have no idea how rough it is until you run it.

Miles 22-24 (10:39, 10:46, 11:27)

By mile 22 I was really struggling and my splits dropped into the 10s and then 11s. It seemed like mile 24 would never end. My body screamed, “Stop! Stop running!” and my mind yelled, “Go! Move your legs! Why are you so slow?!” It was awful watching the other runners heading back toward the finish line. I would never cut the course (it would only be cheating myself) but I cannot tell you how tempting it was and how easy it would have been.

Miles 25-26.24 (11:14, 10:08, 9:13)

Apparently when I passed the turnaround at mile 24 and realized I wasn’t going to collapse right there on the course, I was able to pick the pace up slightly and give it a kick at the end. I got the pace back down to 10:08 for mile 26 and then hit 9:13 for the sprint to the finish. I had a sub-4 in my sights and I wasn’t going to let go! I came in at 3:57:29, which is a personal record by five minutes and 10 seconds.

Finish Line Expo

The oranges at the finish line expo tasted heavenly! I gobbled up a few slices and grabbed some Clif Bars and cups of water and met up with my family. We walked toward the shore with the thought that I would take an ice bath in the ocean, but I could not make it over the rocks at the beach. With some help bending my sore legs, I sat down on one of the rocks and focused on catching my breath. I felt drained and I wasn’t recovering like I usually do after a race. In fact, I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. When that continued for about 30 minutes, I realized I should get to a medical tent to get checked out. Unfortunately by that time Mike had taken one of the girls to the restroom, so it was up to my oldest to guide me and my youngest. It didn’t help that at that point, I burst into tears. I felt overwhelmed and disappointed, not that I didn’t get a 3:45, but that I’d bonked so bad and didn’t meet my goal of enjoying the race.

Another runner saw me sobbing and he escorted me to the medical tent. Gilbert, thank you so much for your kindness! There are lots of people I should thank — everyone at the medical tent including the nurse from UCLA, and the EMTs who took my vital signs, and the man who got me some dry t-shirts and a blanket to warm me and some Gatorade and chips.

My vital signs all checked out — my blood pressure was 150 over 90 (not dangerously high), and my pulse was 67. The EMTs gave me some oxygen and just had me rest. It was another 30 minutes though before I finally stopped shaking and felt well enough to walk back to my car with Mike (after I paid for the t-shirts I’d been given) a full hour after I’d finished the race.

As I said, I need some more time to process the experience and see how I feel about it all. I can’t be too traumatized by it because I’ve already set my sights on another marathon (Long Beach on October 13). My main concern is figuring out why I bonked so bad in the race when my five 20-mile runs went so well during training. I happen to be getting blood tests done tomorrow to check on my thyroid, which I suspect is the culprit in the uncontrollable shaking. The only other time I’ve ever had the shakes like that is when I went to the dentist when I was hyperthyroid (but didn’t know it) and I had a reaction to the epinephrine in the dental anesthesia. Perhaps my thyroid levels are high and I need to reduce the dose of thyroid supplements I’m taking. Or perhaps the adrenaline from the race simply pushed me over the edge. All I know is that I never want it to happen again! [Edited to add: My thyroid levels turned out to be normal. I now suspect that the shaking was due to dehydration and/or under-fueling — in spite of my best efforts at planning I did not consume enough liquids and calories during the race.]

All in all, I am proud of myself for being dedicated to the training, for reaching for an ambitious goal, for toughing out a difficult race, for pulling out a sub-4 time and 5 minute PR, and for bouncing back to be ready and willing to race again. I feel great physically — better than I did after my first marathon — and I find myself wanting to build on my training to go on and have an even better race next time.

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Note: Four days after the Mountains2Beach Marathon, my emotions about the race remain as raw as the blister on my left big toe. So I’ll stick to the facts and save any analysis for later.

In spite of some serious race jitters, I had no trouble going to sleep at 9:45 p.m. the night before the race. Good thing, too, because I only had about five hours before my alarm would go off at 3 a.m.!

For breakfast three hours before the race, I ate some oatmeal and a banana, and drank coffee with unsweetened almond milk. Two hours before the race I drank a couple of cups of Fluid sports drink. By 5 a.m. I was dressed and ready to leave for the race. We had rented a vacation home just minutes from the starting line and it was very nice not to have to board a shuttle in Ventura for a 25 minute ride to Ojai.

The point-to-point race started just north of Nordhoff High School. I had hoped the school would be open so the runners could stay warm and use the facilities like we were able to at Santa Barbara. Sadly, no. Picture lots of runners shivering in the dark, waiting in long porta potty lines. I seriously considered befriending someone who had been smart enough to bring a trash bag to keep warm under. It wouldn’t have been at all weird to offer to share my body heat with a stranger, right? Instead I spent my time slathering on sunscreen and waiting about 15 minutes for the porta potty. Shortly before the 6 a.m. scheduled start time, I did a little warm up and then entered the corral. The actual start time was delayed 10 minutes to accommodate all those people still in line to do their pre-race business. The race started in two waves and people self-seeded by whether they planned to finish before or after the 3:45 mark.

In the days leading up to the race I studied the course map and elevation map. I had trained for an average 8:35 pace for an “A” goal of a 3:45 time. I planned to go out at 8:20 for the flat and downhill portions of the race, with a 9:00 pace on any hills and the flat 5 miles along the beach at the end. As it turned out that was a decent strategy because it was pretty much what the 3:45 pacer did; it just was a little ambitious for me….

Miles 0-3 (8:17, 8:24, 8:23)

The race starts with a 10K loop through a pretty section of Meiners Oaks. Miles 0-2.75 are relatively flat with just one very short uphill jog before you head down to the Ojai Valley Trail. I was worried it would bottleneck where we joined the trail but the pack had thinned just enough by then.

Miles 3-5 (9:01, 8:55, 8:12)

At mile 2.75 there is a slight uphill grade until mile 5. Nothing intimidating at all and I just watched my breathing and kept a constant effort rather than a constant pace.

Miles 6-10 (8:12, 8:20, 8:15, 8:19, 8:22)

At mile 6 we looped back past the start at the high school and Mike and the girls met me with a bottle of Fluid. My youngest two girls paced me for a bit:

My girls at Mountains2Beach

(Psst: If you “like” this photo on Facebook it could help me win a free entry to next year’s marathon!)

Miles 11-17 (8:22, 8:24, 8:47, 8:41, 8:42, 8:30, 8:27)

The Ojai Valley Trail is gorgeous and the gentle decline helped my pace and didn’t hurt my knees. Mike and the girls met me again around mile 11.4 with another bottle of Fluid.

handoff of Fluid Mountains2Beach

My family all wore lime green t-shirts so I could find them on the trail. They had a harder time finding me in my generic blue t-shirt, but they did it on time every time and were a fantastic support crew.

At mile 12 I took a gel with caffeine. Interesting that my splits started to slow then rather than pick up….

I was disappointed that there wasn’t a timing mat or clock at the 13.1 mark on the course. By my Garmin at 13.12 (half of my 26.24 race), I hit a personal best half marathon time of 1:51:01.

Read on for Part 2, also known as “where I hit the wall and the wheels fell off.”

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