With the race being held in Huntington Beach, this would be an overnight trip for me. This time my whole family came with me. Bonus! We drove up from San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stopped in Irvine to have lunch with our old neighbors, who recently moved there. It was great to catch up with them, especially because their son is one of my son's best friend. After, we drove straight to the Expo for my packet pickup.
Packet pickup was extremely well organized and easy. In fact, this entire event was well organized, from start to finish. (I was especially impressed with their Facebook page; if you asked a question, someone from the race answered it within the day. Great customer service). I got my bib and shirt, and then we walked around the Expo. Although I saw things I could have bought (one shirt in particular had paw prints on it and said "my running partner has four legs"....it was adorable, but not for $30) I ended up leaving the Expo without spending a cent.
After the Expo we checked into our hotel. At the desk, I asked about the shuttle service, which I thought they had to the race start the next morning. It turned out that we booked at the wrong hotel! We booked at the Doubletree, and the website said the race was partnering with the Doubletree Club. That hotel was right by our hotel, but it was not a partner with the race. Our mistake, not theirs; we didn't realize there were two different hotels, both by Doubletree. This meant that I would not have access to a shuttle (we called the other hotel to ask, but were denied) and so J and the kids would have to get up early and drive me there. Not ideal, but it had to be done. We ate at the Red Robin that night (kid-friendly) and I tried to get to sleep. Trying to sleep with a 5- and 7-year old in the same hotel room is hard enough on a regular night, but the night before a race was heinous. They were so excited to be away, and did not fall asleep for quite a while. Luckily, I think we all dozed off by 9:00, and, while I woke up approximately every hour all night, I did get a decent night's sleep before my 5:30 wake-up call.
The next morning I woke up, got dressed (I was excited to debut my newly acquired Half Fanatics t-shirt, having just qualified in December), and had to wake the kids. I hated waking them so early, especially on vacation, but I needed to get to the start line. They drove me and dropped me off at the marked "family and friends" drop-off area. Again, this was well-organized and easy. There was no traffic whatsoever (they dropped me off around 6:30, right when the marathoners started their race and the half marathoners were just getting there) and I walked an easy few blocks to the starting area. Here I met up with Sheila, a friend of mine from Twitter and Dailymile whom I've never met in person. It was great to meet her (I'm bummed we didn't think about taking a picture!) I also found port-a-potty heaven: long rows of port-a-pottys with no lines! And inside, it was clean and looked unused--it even smelled nice (for a port-a-potty, that is!) I was happy I didn't have to wait in line and use a nasty one.
The pre-race scene was very reminiscent of the pre-race scene at the Long Beach Half Marathon. The same beach-y vibe, the same energy...probably because a lot of the same people do these Orange County races. It was very casual and laid-back, but with a huge air of excitement. I had heard that 60% of the 20, 000 people were running their first half- or full marathons. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but there were definitely a lot of newbies. When the announcer asked people to shout if it was their first half marathon, lots of people around me yelled out. Very cool. Anyhow, I found my corral and got in to wait. I was getting nervous about the heat; I ended up discarding my throw-away jacket and gloves while still in the corral! It was getting too warm, too early. It seemed that the race was delayed, as my wave didn't get off until about 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. Finally, we were off and running!
While I didn't have any major technical issues this race (I dropped my camera during the Long Beach Half Marathon, and my fuel belt came off during Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas, costing me my sub-2:30 time) I DID have issues with my iPod. For some reason, it was acting up for the first few miles. A song would come on, then stop suddenly for 30-60 seconds. Then it would resume in the same place it had stopped. I was fearful I'd have to run the race without music (something I never do) but luckily around mile 5 it stayed on for good.
Most of the race (about 10 of the 13.1) was right on Pacific Coast Highway, alongside the ocean. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was mostly flat, with some slight inclines here and there and some smaller "hills" around miles 3-5 ( they weren't steep, but they definitely not flat). They had a bit of course entertainment, but mostly the entertainment was the beautiful views of the Pacific. They had ample course support in terms of water, sports drink and food (I think they gave out Sharkies and Clif Shot Bloks). They did run out of cups around the mile 8 marker; the volunteers there were offering runners either a "refill or a splash" with their water (this is one of my tips for racing: always, always carry your own hydration, as you never know if the race will run out of water or even cups!) Other than that one water station, everything was perfect.
There were also lots of spectators along the course, which was awesome. My two favorite signs were "You are NOT almost there" (at mile 2) and "Do it for the Facebook pictures". As a runner, I always appreciate the spectators cheering and holding signs, especially ones that make me chuckle.
I loved the mile markers
I was on pace to break 2:30 up until mile 9. At that point the 2:30 pacers passed me, then disappeared in the distance. It was getting hot, and I started suffering. I hate running in the heat. While it certainly wasn't THAT hot, it was much hotter than I had anticipated for the first Sunday in February. I even had to dump water on my head at the water stops, something I never thought I'd have to do in a winter race. I also started to get a bit nauseous, and my legs started to hurt...and that threw me off. My body overcame my mind, and I took too many walk breaks.
Finally the finish line was in sight. The chutes were packed with people, and though I really wanted to slow down I didn't. Really, I was so nauseous at this point, and was doing some self-talk not to get sick right then and there! Luckily, I saw J and the kids on the side. I ran right by them, slapping my son D with a high-five, and crossed the finish line. At that point, I was just happy to be done. I wasn't exhausted (I think taking a Gu at miles 4, 8, and 12 really helped) but my calfs were so tight I thought they would snap in half if I flexed. In the end, I finished in about 2:36...not my best time, not my worst time. In fact, that time in somewhere right in the middle of where I've been coming in for the last year and a half. I wish I was able to recapture some of that mental toughness that got me to PR in Vegas---and I will one day--but that was not to be in the race yesterday. I got my medal and was handed a bag with food, containing a banana, granola bar and some other food. I got a similar bag of snacks after crossing the finish line at Long Beach. I like that!
All in all, I loved this race. I can't say enough about how well organized it was, or how beautiful the course was. For me, I need to practice mind-over-body, because while I think I truly needed some of those walk breaks, others I probably could have run through. I want to be more mentally tough. Regardless, it was a great race for this Half Fanatic. I look forward to finishing up the Beach Cities Challenge in May with the OC Half Marathon!