For lack of a better idea, I spent last week following the previously maligned RW SmartCoach’s final week while trying to figure out why all the rolling I was doing for my IT band wasn’t doing diddly squat for my butt pain. After Googling a bunch of words relating to hip, back, butt, running, pain, etc, I must have achieved the correct combination to point me to piriformis. Descriptions of the symptoms fit almost exactly what has been happening to my left leg. I started doing some weird piriformis strengthening and stretching exercises on Tuesday, and by Thursday, I was feeling 90% better. This was a good sign but I was still feeling apprehensive about Sunday.
Throughout the week I had been chatting with running ladies about my last 22-miler that didn’t happen and how I felt like I might hit The Wall in the marathon earlier than I should (like mile 16 or something). Everyone assured me it would be ok. Pam told me to “trust my taper” and that I had a good base –their reassurances helped me not dwell on my too-long taper and allowed me to not psyche myself out of the race before I even got to the start.
I picked up my bib on Saturday morning – quick and painless. Because I had a very busy week at work I didn’t have time to hit up RRS for Clif Shot Bloks, so I figured I’d get them at the expo. While the one vendor had lots of flavors, it was 50 cents more than RRS (booo! $2 instead of $1.50) and there was a $10 minimum credit card charge (I never carry cash), so I ended up buying a Brooks hat I didn’t really need (though I’ll use it) to make up the missing $6.
Saturday night I mixed my gatorade, filled my ancient fuel belt bottles (from 2002!), packed my shot blocks, and laid out my running outfit which was all kinds of Bargain Basement: Old Navy shorts, Old Navy sports bra, Walmart/Danskin top (cotton blend – I’m a cotton fan, as long as it’s fitted, I don’t have any chaffing issues), CEP calf sleeves, Walmart/Danskin running socks, Brooks hat (expo purchase), and my Brooks Ravenna kicks.
I went to bed at 9:15pm which was completely pointless. I tossed and turned past 11:30pm. Alarm went off at 4am. I am thinking I got about 4 hours of sleep. Thankfully I had slept in Saturday morning so I figured I had some in the bank. Showered, drank a latte, had a banana and half a bagel with peanut butter, a few bathrooms stops and I was in the car at 5:02am.
At 5:12am I was parked (yay, local/hometown race!). I picked the first possible spot from the entrance/exit of the mall off El Camino Real. If you ever run this race, I highly recommend you either park like I did: super close to the exit, or park outside the mall. The traffic getting out is a nightmare – last year it took us an hour to get to the exit.
I body glided the crap out of every spot that has ever chaffed in a long run, took my throwaway bag for my throwaway gear, and made the 5 minute walk to the start (the downside to parking for an easy exit). Nicole texted me that she was at the porta potties – I found her getting blog-recognized by another reader/runner. We chatted a bit and then made one more bathroom stop before walking to the start.
Because Sarah is always dressed so damn cute, I spotted her immediately, about 5 feet in front of us in the start chute. We went over to hang out with her and Dave, pacer extraordinaire, for a few minutes. You could feel the pre-race anticipation feeling in all of us – it doesn’t escape anyone, even the speedster SR who has run 26 marathons. The National Anthem was sung (and, boy, maybe the singer was nervous, but she travelled through three different keys – all over the place), and then around 6:02am we were off! In the dark!
Nicole and I ran together the first mile and a half – she was taking it easy so I just stuck with her because the pace felt fine. But in the back of my head I knew that Nicole’s “easy” was not my “easy” pace. I couldn’t really see my Garmin in the dark, but I managed to catch it in a few street lights and could see that we were in the mid 8’s. I had planned low-to-mid 9’s for the first few miles, so even though my body was rearing to go with 8:40 pace, my head said it was a bad idea. So somewhere on Jefferson St, I let her go and took it down notch.
Mile 1: 8:43 (26 feet up, 24 feet down)
Mile 2: 8:41 (18 up, 48 down)
Mile 3: 9:07 (37 up, 0 down)
Lots of folks were passing me once I decided to slow it down a bit, but I didn’t care. I did not want to bonk at mile 16 like I did at San Diego RnR in 2003. At mile 3, I went with what has been working for me in races, and took my first shot blok. Tropical Punch flavor – wasn’t too bad, it’s palatable. I couldn’t help myself when I saw them at the expo. Blue running fuel?! Yes.
The sky was starting to get light and you could see the sunrise to the east of the 101 with the ocean on the right. I tried to say present, breathe in the ocean smell, marvel at the views as we ran down the 101 south toward Palomar Airport Road.
Mile 4: 9:01 (0 up, 37 down)
Mile 5: 9:13 (45 up, 0 down)
Mile 6 is when turned inland, east on Palomar Airport Rd starting the climb to the peak elevation of the race – 322 feet above sea level. At this point, I had somehow gotten .15 miles behind the mile markers. I think part of it was the weaving I initially did and not paying attention to tangents. I knew the hills were coming so I was going to continue my conservative pace.
Mile 6: 8:51 (19 up, 8 down)
Mile 7: 9:03 (57 up, 27 down)
Mile 8: 9:00 (89 up, 26 down)
Here we did some weird little loop off the main road; just before we turned, I managed to catch a glimpse of the lead males but because of the loop I missed the lead females. I commiserated a bit with another runner about when the stinkin’ hills were going to be over already, and as we merged back with Palomar Airport Road, a saw a blond in a fuchsia skirt on the other side – Sarah killing it down the hill. I bellowed something at her like “Go Sarah, You got it!” – I generally sound like a dude if I yell while running. Shortly thereafter as I was climbing the piece of crap hill, I saw Nicole cruising down and yell-cheered for her.
Mile 9: 9:08 (160 up, 26 down) <— biggest climbing mile
At the turn around and down the hill, I kept hearing 5:45am Nicole talking about how it was dangerous after mile 10, meaning that it is easy to just pick up the pace down the hill – too early – and crap out. So as we approached the descent, I held back. Even after the runner I chatted with at mile 8 passed me and commented about making up the time on the downhill, I told her I was taking it easy trying not to waste any energy.
Mile 10: 8:44 (57 up, 36 down)
Mile 11: 8:32 (0 up, 146 down) <—definitely holding back
Mile 12: 8:48 (3 up, 69 down)
The course took another little off-shoot up Avenida Encinas. I finished my last tropical punch block at mile 13. I felt like I wasn’t drinking enough – I had four 7-ounce bottles and had gone through maybe 1.25 bottles. So I made myself drink at various points even when I didn’t feel like it. At mile 13, I took an ibuprofen just in case my hip started bothering me.
Mile 13: 8:49 (54 up, 81 down)
Mile 14: 8:39 (0 up, 20 down)
At this point, I felt like maybe I was going too fast because I hadn’t seen a 9:xx mile since mile 9. But I kept asking myself, honestly and objectively, if I felt like I could do this for 12 more miles. The answer was never “no”, so I kept going with the same level of effort.
Mile 15: 8:46 (7 up, 0 down)
At mile 15 we merged with the halfers which kind of tripped me out. My average pace through mile 15 was 8:52 (thanks Garmin CSV data export!), but I had merged with sub-1:45 half runners who were at mile 5! At one point I felt a herd of people coming up behind me – I literally looked behind to my left and right because I could just feel their energy behind me. It was the 1:45 pace group. They enveloped me for about 10 seconds and then pulled away – I had to tell myself to stick to my own pace, not the herd’s pace.
Mile 16: 8:45 (31 up, 46 down)
Shortly after 16, the halfers turned around – but the signage only said “half marathon turn around.” Marathon brain had me a bit confused - I figured I had to continue south on the 101 but it was messing with my head. I looked ahead and saw maybe three runners in the distance, and one lady to my right going straight as well. She told me I was going the right way since she could tell I was all kinds of bewildered. We went from lots of runners on the course, to very few.
Mile 17: 8:37 (24 up, 0 down)
Somewhere after mile 16/17, I grabbed a GU from a volunteer because my brain I had done some incorrect math that predicted I would run out of shot blocks at mile 23 (taking every odd mile from mile 3 on). Turns out, two packs was just enough – with the last pack being the freak-nasty tasting margarita flavor that I figured I should eat for the extra salt. I saw Sarah again on the other side of the 101, she looked positive and in good spirits – but like she was working hard. This time I only had the energy to wave hello rather than say anything.
Mile 18: 8:36 (17 up, 67 down)
Mile 19: 8:56 (58 up, 31 down)
Mile 18 is uphill to the turn around at La Costa Ave – my Garmin splits show the climb in both mile 18 & 19 as I was behind .19 miles from the markers at that point. This is one of the tough spots on the course and I didn’t take it lightly. I consider myself lucky because I am so familiar with this road. I have run that hill so many times – I knew it’s severity and I knew how fast to go up it while still conserving energy. But it’s still ball-buster after 18 miles. I took the other ibuprofen I had stashed in my belt as additional hip-pain and inflammation insurance.
Mile 20: 8:39 (26 up, 0 down)
We had rejoined the halfers, but it was taped off leaving a small but adequate path for the marathoners. I started passing people. You could see the Mile 20 Wall hitting people – I kept wondering when I was going to run face first into it.
One lady good-naturedly lamented about the pain – I tried to reassure her: “Less than an hour and we’re done! Less than an hour!” As I said it I realized how absurd it sounded. An hour is a long time to be in pain. Then I passed the woman I chatted with at mile 8 on the hills, “You again!” “Yup!” was all I was all I could spit out. She then said something to the effect of “good job” and I returned the words encouragement.
Mile 21: 8:35 (40 up, 52 down)
Mile 22: 8:31 (0 up, 7 down)
Here is where I started feeling some fatigue. Yeah, I was obviously kind of tired from running 22 miles, but I wasn’t hurting. However, my legs had entered a mileage they were not accustomed to. I began to wonder if I could sustain the 8:30’s. But I was unwilling to slow down.
Mile 23: 8:30 (0 up, 42 down)
Somewhere around here, the taped off path for the marathoners ended and it was just orange cones which were pointless. We had merged with halfers running a 2:20 finish time pace. Not ideal, especially since this is the bulk of the half finishers. Up to this point, I had managed to sustain the same .17-.19 mile delta between my garmin and the markers, but from here on out, I had to throw tangents out the windows and weave and dodge.
Mile 24: 8:41 (36 up, 0 down)
There were spectators on the course, people on bikes – it was making me nuts. Seriously, the frustration was bubbling up. I was curtly calling out “on your left!” and “on your right!” I was trying to maintain 8:30 pace and the rest of the halfers were at 10:30. At the turn to Laguna Dr, I got an elbow into my left shoulder as I tried to sneak around a runner. There was one last aid station at mile 24.5 and the anger I felt here trying to get through bubbled up and I let out an angry growl. It was so hard to keep running, and at a pace the was faster than the rest of my race had been. To get blocked and have to run around people made me bonkers.
Mile 25: 8:28 (30 up, 34 down)
We had all of Jefferson street at our disposal , yet everyone was crammed to the right. I decided to ride the double yellow line to get around people but it was a pretty steep bank. I passed some dudes dressed like Police Officer Strippers (it was pretty funny – they had on tight shorts and mirror aviator sunglasses) – they were running with the group telling them that it was time to kick it in. I weaved around them. “There’s a kicker! Go get it!” They had seen me making my way through the runners. I appreciated the cheering but I was hurting.
Mile 26: 8:06 (16 up, 39 down)
Where the f*** if the finish!?! I knew my garmin was behind, I just didn’t know by how much. At 26.2 I looked down and it was 3:49:xx. I just kept pushing – my breathing was labored for the first time in the last 4 hours. Finally I saw the turn to the chute.
Just like the half marathon turn around, the herd went right, and I went left with the one marathoner I could see ahead of me. I made the ugliest face ever and pushed to the finish.
Last .47: 3:42 – 7:57 pace
Official time: 3:51:10, 8:49 pace (garmin: 3:51:11, 8:44)
I nearly cried after I crossed the finish line. I had to stop myself because I felt like that would be embarrassing. It was hard and a significant effort, but not enough to cry about it. The feeling passed after a minute or so. Maybe 60 seconds after I finished, my phone rang – the Husband had shown up at the finish! I was so grateful to see him. I was feeling emotional – relieved, happy, proud, and exhausted. He didn’t really want to hug my nasty sweaty body, but I forced him to accept that I was going to hug him.
We walked to the bag check and the line was so ridiculously long, I decided I didn’t care if I lost my throwaway pants, gloves, and home-made arm warmers. We met up with Heather and Sarah (who ran 3:14:xx!!! 9th female!) and headed off to brunch to celebrate and laugh our butts off with Nicole (who might be the funniest chick ever).
Here’s to hoping I can repeat this at RnR New Orleans in March!
Oh, and before I forget, Aspaeris who is sponsoring our Ragnar Ultra team is offering 50% off (that is a crazy discount) compression shorts with the code cooleronline.