January 27, 2016

Carlsbad Marathon Race Recap

Well, it's been a week, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the experience!  The Carlsbad Marathon is in the books!

Short story:  I did it! I became a marathoner (again) and this time feel proud of the experience!  I didn't reach my "A" or "B" goals, but I'm very pleased with my "C" goal, and only missed my "B" goal by less than 8 minutes.

Long story:  The Friday before, I went to the expo.  Unlike past times I've done this event (I've run the half marathon twice) I felt there weren't a lot of vendor there.  I met my friend T there, got my bib, shirt and finisher's jacket, made a pass around the expo, and got out of there. I had wanted to buy another shirt that said 26.2, but I couldn't find anything I liked.  I ended up only buying a 26.2 sticker, to be put on my car after the race. I also picked up the packet for my friend Mihael, who would be running the race with me.

Pre-race, I really struggled with what to wear.  I knew I'd be out there for a long time, and comfort was key. And while I knew the morning might be very cold, the forecast didn't look like it would stay that way.  I decided on long capris, a short-sleeved tech shirt (decided on my Divas Half Marathon one, where I got my current half mary PR), arm warmers, and my Vineman 70.3 visor, along with my throw-away gloves and jacket (and handwarmers). Regardless of how cold the morning might be, I knew once I started running I'd warm up quickly.

Also, I was worried about the hills on the course. I've done the half twice (recaps here and here) and LOVE the rolling hills on that course---I got some of my best race times on that course.  But the elevation for the full had me a bit worried.

look at that big peak on Palomar Airport Road!

Sunday morning I got up (of course, before my 3:45 alarm), got dressed, ate a Luna Bar, and was out of the house by 4:20.  There was no traffic, and I parked in my new "usual" spot there---far from the finish line, by the entrance, backed in. I know from experience that getting out of the mall can be a bitch!  I found Mihael and T, and hung out until the race start time, which was 6:15.  The full marathon only had a few hundred runners, unlike the very popular half marathon, and that didn't start until 7:45----so it wasn't crowded at all.  No lines for the port-o-potties.  And it wasn't cold! I was expecting it to be freezing, but it wasn't. 

When the race started, I stuck to my plan right away. I was to do the first four miles at a 1:1 ratio (run 1 minute, walk 1 minute) and then kick it up to 2:1 from miles 4-13 (and then assess from there).  It's always hard in a race to start at a 1:1 ratio, as it's demoralizing to start walking almost immediately after starting---but I knew, especially in order to finish 26.2 miles, that I would need to be conservative.

It was dark when we started, but the sun started to rise very soon.  In fact, about a mile in I was ready to shed my jacket and gloves.  A few miles in we turned toward the ocean (this part of the route is familiar to me, as it's the half marathon route) and it was gorgeous seeing the sun's reflection off the ocean.  I randomly met two women from my local Moms Run This Town group, and throughout the race we'd leapfrog each other.  I was feeling good here---keeping a good pace, doing my run/walk ratio, enjoying the view and the runners and my music---and of course, my friend Mihael, who is crazy entertainment.  Seriously, he kept me laughing throughout the race with his dancing, antics, schmoozing with runners, volunteers and police---he was a gem and a true friend to run this with me.  Early on a saw a port-o-potty with no line and ran in. (I had decided that if I needed to go to the bathroom, I'd only go if there were no lines, unless it was an emergency situation, which luckily never came to pass).

still fresh and happy
After mile 5, we veered off the half marathon course and onto Palomar Airport Road. I've never been on this road on this except once while biking. I didn't remember how hilly it was, but I've heard it's pretty hilly for the marathon. It wasn't super steep, but it was a definite incline, and it was LONG.  By this time we were "only" at miles 7-9, and I was already getting tired. I was keeping on top of my needs. My Garmin reminded me to take a Gu every 4 miles, I was drinking, both from the Gatorade on my fuel belt and the water and sports drinks at the aid stations, and was periodically taking my salt.  But I was getting tired already, and my sciatic was starting to hurt here (it hurts especially on uphills).   We turned around at about mile 9.5, and I took advantage of doing back that street DOWNHILL....let gravity do the work and skipped some walk breaks. I also took my second bathroom break around here.

all race pictures courtesy of Mihael. Thank you!
At mile 13 I took my pickle juice, to avoid cramping, something I have been doing with all my long runs.  I was supposed to try to start doing a 3:1 ratio, and did a few cycles of that, but it was too much.  I started to bonk, more mentally than anything. I started to struggle even with the 2:1 ratio---the pain in my legs was pretty intense. I was having big sciatic issues in my left leg, and my quads were starting to hurt, especially around my inner thigh.  I didn't understand why---two weeks before I had done 20 miles, and didn't hurt until mile 19, so hurting so early in the race was demoralizing to me.

hurting but smiling

Around this time we ran into the half marathoners, mainly the back-of-the-packers. The course got really crowded for a while, but it was nice to have new people to interact with.  I needed to use the restroom again, but because of the crowds, there were long lines.  I stuck to my original plan---it wasn't an emergency, so I didn't stop.  Not too long after, we left the half marathoners and continued on the full course alone.  We were on an out-and-back portion that got really hard for me.  I was in pain, and was really missing my family.  I had seen a girl walking the half with her parents, and as I ran by I noticed she was wearing a hearing aid---the exact same waterproof model that my daughter wears. That got me crying, and thinking about my kids. I was so raw, but Mihael told me to cry at the end, and save my energy for the race.  Around this time I stopped for my third, and final, bathroom break.

Mile 20 was a milestone for me, as I had not run past 20 miles in training.  Of course, we had to stop for a picture.

my initial thought on mile 20. note the finger

convinced to try one smiling

Now I was in uncharted territory.  I was taking a lot more walk breaks than was in my plan, and not doing well.  I continued to take my nutrition, and salt, as planned, and was almost out of Gatorade when I ran by a spectator handing out ice-cold bottles.  That may have saved me, as I stopped to refill my bottles.  The aid stations seemed fewer than I had expected, so I was glad to have filled bottles on my fuel belt again.  I hobbled along in pain, trying to run when I could, and walk when I had to.  I had a marathon race predictor installed on my Garmin 920xt, and would see the predicted finish time hover at about 5:58.  Could I beat my sub-6 goal?

At mile 23 I texted my family  as planned. I assumed I'd be about 40 minutes away from there.  But at mile 24, I was diverted!  On the website it says;

All full marathon participants who are unable to maintain the required 13:44-minute-mile pace will be redirected at Carlsbad Boulevard/Hwy 101 and Carlsbad Village Drive to the finish line via an alternate route. These participants will be using the sidewalk and will be considered pedestrians. The diverted route will be marked and supported, and will equal the full marathon distance.

I didn't know the time, but I heard other diverted runners grumble that they diverted us too early. I didn't know and didn't care---all I knew was that I was not going on the planned route. They had handed out maps to us, but I was too out of it to notice, so Mihael and I were running blind up Carlsbad Village Drive. Luckily he used his phone GPS, and we also eventually caught up with other runners.  We were on a regular street, on a sidewalk.  As promised, the sidewalk WAS marked (we saw where it was painted with "Carlsbad Marathon Mile 25) but it was NOT supported.  There were no aid stations. I was glad I had filled my bottles a few miles back!  Because we were now considered pedestrians, we had to stop at the intersections, which of course added time.  This was frustrating, but as I was exhausted, and this street was mostly uphill, I knew my sub-6 goal was out the window.

almost done!

Finally, FINALLY, we turned left on Monroe street, and it was a downhill toward the finish.  A false alarm, though, as we had to still do a small out-and-back before we were able to cross. I was mostly walking here, but when I turned the corner to the finish, you'd better believe I was running! I saw my family and best friend dressed in their orange team cheer shirts, along with some other dear family friends.  I was so happy to see them!  Mihael slowed down and I think was dancing before crossing, but I sped up and raced through the finish line. I wanted this to be over!  I crossed, was given a medal, a mylar blanket and a bottle of water, and I was done.

26.2 miles later

Finish time was 6:07.  Not shabby at all!  My previous marathon was 7:20, so a HUGE PR.  And only 7 minutes and a few seconds off my sub-6 goal.  Combined with 3 bathroom stops and stopping at all those intersections, I am very pleased with this.  

proud finisher

I saw my kids through the gate and stopped to hold their hands and get kisses, and then continued through the chute. I was very pleasantly surprised to see my friend T, who had finished the full 2 hours before and had waited!  He was with Steve, who had finished the half some time before as well. I was touched that these two friends waited around to watch me become a marathoner.  After reuniting with my family, we all (minus T, but including Steve) went to Soup Plantation for a much needed re-fueling meal.

I told my family (and they got it on video) that I was 90% sure I'd never do a full again.  But now, 10 days later, I'm already contemplating another one for next year.  But I really need to get a handle on my sciatica first, if I do.  That was very painful.

I'm proud. I'm proud of this race.  Yes, it was slower than I wanted, and yes, I wasn't able to stick to the run/walk ratio the way I wanted (more walking than planned)...but I did it. I finished, and finished strong, and felt proud enough to add this 26.2 sticker to my car.\

A huge thank you to Steve for training me yet again.  A huge thank you to my family, who gets my passion and understands my need to run long. And the biggest thanks of all---to my dear friend Mihael, who put up with me for 26.2 miles on a Sunday morning.  You gave me the good marathon experience I desperately needed (despite my pain) and I will never forget that.

January 14, 2016

Looking at 26.2 Miles

Flashback to 2003:

In January 2003, I decided that I wanted to run a full marathon, mainly to cross it off my bucket list. I had started running in 1998, and had done tons of 5ks and one half marathon up to that point.  I don't remember races being all that readily available back then----now it seems that there is a half marathon every month or so in San Diego, but back then, races were few and far between.  Most of my runs weren't training runs, training for a race---they were simply runs done for the exercise, the stress release, and the joy of running.

So by the time 2003 rolled around, I had been running for about 5 years, with only one half marathon under my belt.  I wanted the challenge of a marathon.  I decided on Rock 'n' Roll San Diego----mainly because it was practically the only one around. In fact, back in 2003, San Diego was the only Rock 'n' Roll race in the country! They didn't expand to the huge corporation they are today until a few years later.  And they didn't even have a half marathon option!  Only a full.  Yes, times have changed.  Today there are Rock 'n' Roll events in most major cities, most with both half and full options.  These days many are offering a 5k and/or 10k option as well.

In 2003, it was the dark ages of running, at least for me.  It's hard to believe, because 2003 was not that long ago, but back then there was no social media.  No Facebook.  No Twitter. No Daily Mile. No Instagram. And I don't think really any blogs---at least, not that I knew of. I'm sure there were some discussion forums, but it really wasn't the way it was today.  I had no other friends that ran.  None.  Today, I know a gazillion runners, friends in real life and friends I've met online.  Back then----I was the only runner I knew.

I bought one of the Hal Higdon books on how to train for a marathon, and followed his plan. I had no kids back then (I got pregnant with D a month after the race) so I had plenty of time to run after work and on weekends.  One of my favorite routes was around Balboa Park.  I lived in Hillcrest at the time, and mapped out a 4 mile loop from my house that would take me through the park, past the zoo, etc. I liked it because it had some good people watching, and there was also a bathroom in the park a the halfway point. On long runs, I would do the loop 4, 5 times, often leaving an extra bottle of Gatorade in the bushes by my house for me to refill my bottles.

Back then, there were no Garmins or GPS watches. I had to guesstimate my mileage, and use an actual watch to keep track of time, and then calculate my pace.  There were no iPods.  For music, I carried a walkman (with cassette tapes) or a discman (very cumbersome).  I seem to remember that we had Gu,  or some sort of gel---but I'm positive there weren't that many choices. Not like today. I didn't know about salt. I didn't know about the Jeff Galloway run-walk method. I didn't know really anything, except that I was going to run this thing.

Race day ended up being---excuse my language---a clusterfuck.  I walked the mile from my house to the start line, and was so excited to finally be there.  But I didn't pace myself correctly. I went out too fast, and burnt out really quickly.  Additionally, I overhydrated. It was very hot outside and I drank way too much liquid.  This resulted in me having seven bathroom stops (average stop was at least 5 minutes, with all the line waiting before I even got to go). And of course, after each stop it was hard to start moving again.  At mile 20, I hit the proverbial wall.  I think all the overhydration messed with my body...I felt woozy and not good. I ended up walking most of the last 6.2 miles.  And I when I say walk, I mean shuffle. I vividly remember hot spots on my feet, the pain of the latter part of the run.  It was awful. I finished in well over 7 hours (I believe 7:20 or so)....of course that included over 30 minutes of bathroom stops, but still, I could have done better. I was projecting a 6:15 time (at the time, my one-and-only half marathon was 3:05).
Although I finished, and got my medal, and an official finisher's certificate, I never felt proud of it. I never really talked about the race, I never felt like I could put a 26.2 sticker on my car, and I didn't sign up for another race. In fact, I was so disgusted by running after that race that I virtually stopped running. It wasn't until 2009 that I began to run again.  In the time from the race, mid-2003, until 2009, I only ran sporadically. I was busy with two kids, including one who was in the hospital a lot.  I ran sometimes to burn off stress, and in fact had a jogging stroller I'd use sometimes. But during that time period, I definitely didn't call myself a runner.

Most importantly, I vowed to never, EVER, run a full marathon again.  And while I eventually did come back to running, and in fact love it more than ever and it's now a part of my identity, who I am, not just what I do, and have incorporated triathlon---I have stuck to that.  To date, I have run 26 (I think) half marathons, not counting the 3 half marathons that came at the end of each of my half-Ironmans.  But I never wanted to do a full marathon again, and kept to that promise.

Flash forward to this past summer.

I was doing a lot of biking in preparation for Vineman 70.3 and Pedal the Cause. Most of my rides were with friends, but one day I was biking alone, giving me too much time to think. And I started to think about the possibility of running a full.  After all, I reasoned, if I really want to do a full Ironman in 2020, it would be great to have a more positive marathon experience under my belt.  I decided I didn't want to travel for the race, which left a choice between the two fulls in San Diego---Rock 'n' Roll or Carlsbad. I decided on Carlsbad, which is in January, vs Rock 'n' Roll which is June, due to the heat (although as 2020 gets closer, it may be a good idea for me to run one in the heat for training for Ironman Texas).  I knew in January it could rain, especially with an El Nino year, but I'd rather have rain than heat.  When I got back from my bike ride, I discussed the idea with my husband, and by that evening I was signed up.

I had buyer's remorse almost instantly.

But I knew I could do it.  If my body didn't hold up in training, I could always drop to the half. However,  I'm a better runner than I was in 2003. A smarter runner.  This time is different. I have my friend Steve, who designed yet another training plan for me.  It's not as heavy as other run plans, but it's perfect for ME, as I injure easily and he knows that.  I have a great run/walk ratio that will start me out slow and increase over the race. I have a PLAN to execute, for pace, fuel and hydration. I will have a friend running with me for company, my friend Mihael.  I know about salt intake, and will take it throughout my run to avoid the over-hydration that happened to me.  I have used my Garmin 920xt and my iPod to get me through training.  I have talked about this with dozens of friends, both in real life and online, and have had some great runs with friends as well. I'm not alone this time. I have support, I have knowledge. I can do this.

The race is this weekend. It looks like the weather will be gorgeous, and I'm thankful.

I have goals, which I'll boldy put here:

My "A" goal:  to finish in under 5:50.  This is a stretch. I finished my longest training run, 20 miles, in 4:24, which did NOT include 3 bathroom stops.  This goal assumes no more than 3 bathroom stops, and with minimal waiting at each.  Plus, it assumes I can do the last 6.2 at a decent pace.  After my 20 miles, I could not have imagined doing another step, let alone 10k.

My "B" goal:  to finish in under 5:59.  This one seems more reachable for me.

My "C" goal:  to finish in 6 hours or more, but with a smile on my face, and uninjured.

I'm not going to lie--I'd love to see a 5 in the front of my finishing time. I'm capable of it.  But even if it's over 6 hours, and it very could be, that's ok---it'll still be a PR.  And regardless of my time, I know that on race day I'll do the best job I can do. If it's 5:45, great. If the best I can do on race day is 6:15, or even more, with race day conditions, and what my body can do, that's ok too. I won't beat myself up about it.  The number one thing I want is a good experience, finishing time aside, to be able to draw strength from on future races.

Wish me luck!

January 7, 2016

Bike the Bay Recap 2015

This was done in August----and here it is January.  Wow!  I'm not usually this bad at recapping events!  Just a quick recap here for posterity.

Bike the Bay is an annual event benefiting the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. Although it's been going on for years. I heard it about it for the first time in 2012 when I literally ran into the bikers.  I was training for my first half-Ironman, Superfrog, and since it was in Coronado/Imperial Beach, I was doing a lot of training rides there.  One Sunday, as I drove over the Coronado Bridge on my way over to Coronado, I saw tons of cyclists on the bridge.  I was confused, as there are no bikes or runners allowed on the bridge, except for races.  I came to find out, as I later started biking and talking with people around me, that this was the annual Bike the Bay, a ride that started downtown, went over the bridge, through Coronado, over the Silver Strand into Imperial Beach. and back through Chula Vista and National City. It's a 25 mile ride---untimed, uncompetitive, and open to anyone who wants to ride.

We (my husband, J, and my son, D and I) went with a few friends---my dear friend Todd, and my friend David and his daughter, among others.  We caravaned to the Convention Center, parked, and walked our bikes to the start area. I have never---EVER--seen such a wide array of cyclists. The events I have been in have been either triathlons or bike-focused rides (like my century or metric century).  This had serious cyclists, but lots of recreational ones---tri bikes, road bikes, beach cruisers, kids, riders in tutus....crazy. I loved it.  We check in, put our numbers on our bikes, and waited in the long line of cyclists to get on the road.

let's roll! (yes, I wore my helmet)
waiting to start

Soon after we started was the one big hill---and it was quite a doozy.  The Coronado Bay Bridge.  I've driven this countless times, and ran it once in a race back in the 90s, but never biked it.  Going up was pretty darned steep. I was worried about my son---but I waited at the top and was so happy to see him and J coming up soon after me.  He had ridden up without walking his bike up. I was so proud! 

looking north on top of the bridge
looking south on to of the bridge

The rest of the ride was mostly routes I had done before in various training rides.  The bike path on the Silver Strand, the Bayshore Bikeway....most of it pretty flat and easy.  My son had some trouble, as he tired easily.  I had mistakenly told him it was a 22 mile ride, and he was unhappy to see it was 25 miles.  At one point, he was so frustrated and tired that his face literally crumpled. It was heartbreaking.  But he pressed on, and finished the ride. I thought he wouldn't want to do it again, but he said he loved it and wants to do it next year! I hope we do.  If so, I'll make sure he gets more training in than he did for this one. 25 miles is a long way for a young boy, especially if he hadn't properly trained.