Posted by Chen
This race report could also be titled: “That time I signed up for a marathon and didn’t tell anyone about it (except for Katie, because she was online right after I signed up, and I felt the need to tell someone about the dumb thing I just did, and Brandon, because we live together, and I’m pretty sure he would figure it out eventually).”
Let me back up.
As you saw in my Boston race recap, that marathon didn’t exactly go as planned for me. While I still maintain that I had a fantastic weekend and that the race was a great experience regardless, I still knew I was capable of a much faster time given my training cycle.
So when I was sitting in my friend’s NYC apartment three days later and discovered (while three drinks deep, mind you) that Mountains 2 Beach had opened up several spots in the marathon after having been sold out for a while, I decided that this was my chance! I’ve known for a while that M2B has one of the best BQ courses around and had been hoping to do it someday – well that day could be today! #winning! I immediately filled out my info and pressed “register” without another thought and then giggled to Katie about it over a quick gchat conversation. She laughed and told me that while most people impulse shop, I impulse sign up for marathons. She was not wrong in her assessment.
The next morning, I woke up with only one thought running through my head: “Well that was dumb.”
As I was signing up, a delusional part of me thought that I’d be able to recover and train up in time to shoot for a PR / sub-3:30 again, but as the days went by, my legs continued to feel fatigued and not-at-all ready to train. So I continued to keep the race a secret for five weeks and focused instead on the other two tri sports that I still had (have) to learn.
Looking back at my running Excel sheet, I ran 21 times between Boston and M2B, with most runs totaling 5 miles or less. In fact, I only ran double digits 3 times: one 10-miler, one 11-miler, and one 16-mile last-ditch attempt at training, 2 weeks out from the race. No track or tempo workouts to speak of. I’m not sure what a smart training plan looks like between close marathons, but that wasn’t it.
To complicate matters further, Brandon and I decided to do a three-day juice cleanse during the week leading up to the race (as I’ve mentioned before, logical decisions aren’t always my strong suit, especially when it comes to running). I’ll do another post on the cleanse later, but it essentially equated to me consuming fewer calories over a 3-day span than I normally consume in a single day (sometimes in a single meal). My shake-out run at the end of the cleanse felt incredibly sluggish (shocker), and I became seriously concerned that I would literally pass out on the course.
Still, I knew that some of my Boston training was likely lingering somewhere in these legs of mine, and I knew that if I played it smart (and ate everything in sight to make up for the cleanse), I could still pull off a decent time.
On Saturday morning, Brandon and I woke up, went for another quick shake-out run (which felt much better due to food consumption the night before; funny how that works), and started the drive down to southern California. We made it to the expo by mid-afternoon and easily navigated the low-key expo to pick up our bibs (Brandon signed up for the half marathon waiting list once I told him what I’d done and managed to get in a few days before the race).
Small, simple expo at Ventura High School
We headed to our hotel and then eagerly drove to dinner, as we had been anticipating a visit to a particular restaurant for weeks. Which restaurant, you ask? The one, the only – Olive Garden.
I know – with all the great food we have in the Bay Area, who goes out of their way to eat at Olive Garden? WE DO. We were both huge fans of the chain as kids, and neither of us had eaten there in at least a decade. When we got there, we were a bit shocked to see how many people were waiting in line, but I suppose I was glad to see that Olive Garden continues to prosper!
We were seated within 15 minutes and immediately started chowing down on the unlimited salad and bread sticks. I ordered seafood parpardelle for my main, while Brandon had chicken and fusilli. We both emerged from the meal PAINFULLY full, but hoping that the extreme round of carbo-loading would help us out the next day. We also had ice cream from one of my favorite SoCal spots, McConnell’s, and we headed to bed early with an extremely early wake-up time looming.
So many childhood memories… minus the giant beers.
2:50am Sunday morning came around quickly, and it was time to get ready and head to the shuttles that would take us to our respective starts. Because we signed up so late, we were assigned to the earliest shuttles, meaning we had to wait an hour and a half at the starting area. I used the time to visit the porta-potties five times – not the worst thing in the world. If I do this race again, though, I’ll remember to bring a blanket, as lying directly on concrete wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.
At 5:45am, I ditched my hoodie with the bag check folks and got into the starting corrals. It was already relatively warm by the time we started, and I knew the temperatures were forecasted to linger in the 60-65 degree range, so I reminded myself to stay controlled and do everything I could to avoid the bonking I endured at Boston. While I hadn’t set a goal up until that point, based on how I was feeling, I decided to aim for 3:40 or less.
The race started right on time, and we started our tour of Ojai for the first 9-(or so)-mile loop (such a cute town, by the way!). I knew that this was where all the “climbing” would be, so I kept my pace conservative until we started down the bike path that would take us to the ocean. Similar to what I did during the first half of the Presidio 10-miler, I controlled my pace by making sure I was never breathing too heavily at any point, especially during the two mile climb during miles 6 and 7.
I have “climbing” in quotes above, because as you can see, climbing wasn’t really something we did throughout the race. This was by far the fastest course I’ve ever run!
Mile 1: 8:18
Mile 2: 8:09
Mile 3: 8:06
Mile 4: 7:59
Mile 5: 8:07
Mile 6: 8:26
Mile 7: 8:22
Mile 8: 8:14
Mile 9: 7:59
Mile 10: 8:09
I watched a lot of people pass me during this first loop but didn’t let it get me down or deter me – I had (somewhat of) a plan, and I was sticking to it. I crossed the halfway mark in 1:47:07 feeling good. Anytime I started to feel at all fatigued, I would focus my attention on keeping my cadence high and my steps light. It was a good distraction that quickly changed my mental state to a positive one every time.
One thing I found interesting was that I actually felt better and more controlled on the flatter sections than the ones that were noticeably downhill. It’s not actually surprising, as I only ever train on the rolling hills in Golden Gate Park or the perfectly flat Bay Trail along the peninsula. For anyone thinking of doing this race, it would definitely be a good idea to find long gradual downhill stretches to train and practice on – your quads will thank you!
I started to feel really good around mile 17 and started passing all the people who had passed me earlier. I was still a little nervous that I would blow up at any moment, but I went with it anyway. The 3:35 group had been far ahead of me the whole time, but I started to catch up to them slowly but surely and started to entertain the idea of trying to BQ. I knew if I just maintained my current pace, I could do it, but again – blow up fear remained.
Mile 11: 8:16
Mile 12: 8:12
Mile 13: 8:03
Mile 14: 8:12
Mile 15: 8:03
Mile 16: 8:06
Mile 17: 7:57
Mile 18: 7:57
Mile 19: 8:06
Mile 20: 8:02
I continued to feel really strong through mile 22.5 or so, when I stopped briefly to drink some water and electrolytes. I always walk through water stops, so this was no different, except that this time, I had a REALLY hard time getting going again. I knew that because the electrolytes on the course didn’t have calories, I hadn’t taken in as much fuel as I normally would have by that point, so I decided to break out an unprecedented 5th Gu (I’ve only ever had 4 or less in my 22 previous marathons) and downed it in the hopes that it would pull me through.
It took a few minutes, but it seemed to do the trick. I certainly slowed a little bit in the remaining miles, but I was able to hang on and avoid any major bonking episodes. After my Garmin beeped at the 26th mile, I picked up my pace as much as I could for the last stretch and crossed the finish line in 3:33:52 (3:33:53 official time).
Mile 21: 8:09
Mile 22: 8:05
Mile 23: 8:24
Mile 24: 8:18
Mile 25: 8:09
Mile 26: 8:14
Mile 26.24: 7:31
First half: 1:47:07
Second half: 1:46:45 (the closest I’ve ever come to even-splitting!)
I was really happy with the way I ran this race, and even though it wasn’t a PR, it was still my 3rd fastest time ever. I really couldn’t have asked for a better outcome given my lack of training and cleanse stupidity. The race itself was also beautiful and well-organized, and it’s definitely one I will do again if given the opportunity.
26.2 / 13.1 miles done!
Brandon and I spent the rest of the weekend in Santa Barbara, where I and several of my fellow blog authors went to grad school. I hadn’t been back in quite some time, so it was great to visit again and show Brandon all of our old spots. Our time was mostly focused on eating and drinking, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking there:
Post-race shrimp cocktail, lobster tacos, more giant beers, and mint chip ice cream, consumed atop the Santa Barbara pier
Obligatory selfie, taken from the aforementioned Santa Barbara pier
Delicious Vietnamese food the next day: fresh spring rolls, curry noodle soup, shrimp stir-fry, more McConnell’s ice cream
Since this is still a triathlon training blog, I’ll mention that before leaving Santa Barbara, we went for our first open water swim. My thoughts:
- Rachel was right – wetsuits ARE like a flotation device! It’s nice to know that if I get tired in a tri, I can just flip onto my back and float for a while
- Wetsuits also keep you warm and cozy – despite water temps of 57 degrees, I felt completely comfortable temperature-wise the entire time
- East Beach was particularly calm that morning, and it made for an ocean swimming experience that was far less scary than anticipated
- Salt water. I managed to inhale / swallow a lot, and I found myself missing the familiar chemical taste of chlorine
- NO visibility. Santa Barbara waters aren’t exactly clear, and I found it frightening to look into the water and see nothing below me. Sometimes I’d even have to close my eyes and only open them while breathing to prevent myself from getting too scared.
- Lack of sighting skills. I thought I was bad at swimming in a straight line in a pool, but my goodness, I’m terrible at sighting buoys. I'm surprised I didn't swim straight out into the ocean, never to be seen again.
All in all, we had a fantastic long weekend down in SoCal! And I’ll try not to sign up for anymore surprise marathons anytime soon...