I carbo loaded the same way I did for Surf City. I ate a lower carb diet in the early part of the week and then ramped up later in the week. In retrospect, maybe I could have gone heavier at lunch and then lighter at dinner. That worked really well in Carlsbad. However, my food the day before the race was no different than before any of my long runs.
I took it easy all day Saturday, having gone to the expo on Friday. I had everything set out early and was in bed at a reasonable hour. I slept surprisingly well. I only woke up once, where I usually wake up every hour before a race. I woke up a couple minutes before my alarm (the first of three that I had set). I was ready to go and excited.
I picked up my friend Marci at 5:15 and we were both feeling good. I made a comment that maybe it was a bad sign that I wasn’t more nervous. Foreshadowing??
We got there in great time. The route I chose was perfect and we didn’t hit any traffic. Parking was a breeze. A friend of mine had been able to get us VIP parking and access to the VIP tent. We parked, walked over the bridge and used the porta potty in the VIP tent…avoiding all potty lines! I wished my friend Stacey and her brothers good luck and Marci and I headed out to check my bag and line up at the start. We made our way up into Wave 1 (I thought it was Wave 2 until I saw the 3:40 pacer). Things were going great!
Marci and I are ready to go!
Stacey and I before her first half marathonAfter the typical announcements, National Anthem, etc. we were off! I kept remembering Alissa telling me that the first ten miles of a marathon should be the easiest ten miles I have run. I easily ran under my target pace. In fact, I had to slow myself (and Marci) down. It was a bit humid, but it was overcast and the temperature was nice.
That first mile was 8:34…a bit faster than my plan, but nothing too bad. The next ten miles were all between 8:34 and 8:48—exactly where I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I was not running the tangents very well and my Garmin was off from the mile markers. According to my pace band, I was right on target for a 3:50 finish. There wasn’t much room for error.
Marci was looking good. Around the third or fourth mile, she started pulling away. I was ok with that, because my pace was right where I wanted it to be. I wanted to run my race and I let her run hers.
I noticed pretty early on that my running did not feel “effortless.” My legs felt a little heavy and I couldn’t quite get into a really easy rhythm with my breathing. In the beginning, I was thinking that I just needed to warm up. Often on long runs, I don’t get into a good groove until at least mile five or six. However, once I got onto the beach path, my legs felt really heavy. I had to focus on each step. A few people have commented that the concrete path was really difficult. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But, looking back, the concrete may have contributed to my overall decline at the end of the race.
Right as I started on the bike path, Marci appeared out of a bathroom. We were thrilled to have found each other again. Things were looking up. however, my leg was starting to get pretty tight. I stopped at the Kool ‘n Fit spray tent at mile 10 and had them spray my thigh and knee. I was hoping to prevent future issues.
Marci and I ran together until sometime around mile 11 when I felt a horrible feeling-- I had to go to the bathroom! I thought I had gone plenty of times before as part of my typical pre-race ritual. Hmmm…. now I am wondering if I should try the Immodium route like so many others do, but it still makes me nervous. But that feeling where you desperately need a porta potty is one of the worst feelings in the world. I know now that it was the beginning of the end.
I found a bathroom—thank God. I was in there a little over a minute. I knew I had some time to make up to make my goal. Once out of the potty, I hit the lap button on my Garmin to make sure I ran at the right pace and took off. But, for some reason, I never quite got back to my pace. It took more and more work just to keep my pace under 9:00. My stomach was still feeling “icky” and I thought at one point that I was gong to throw up.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that 3:50 was now not possible. I shook off that goal and decided that I would be going for a less aggressive goal. I wanted to finish under my PR of 3:57. I knew that the pace for that time was 9:03. If I kept my pace under 9:00 for the rest of the race, I could manage a PR. No problem, right?
I saw Marci’s husband around mile 16. I wasn’t feeling speedy, but I was feeling ok. The feeling that I was going to throw up wasn’t as strong and I was encouraged when he told me that he had only seen Marci a couple minutes before. Seeing her family really gave me a boost and I was still feeling optimistic.
I was walking at the water stops at this point, even though I had carried plenty of water. I was using the stops as an excuse to rest. I was feeling a bit winded, something I never feel. In looking back, I wonder if my initial desire to make up the time in the porta potty made me run with an elevated heart rate. I don’t run with a monitor, but I would be really curious to see where my heart rate was before the bathroom stop and after.
The course turned into the CSULB campus and I knew the last major hill of the course was around the campus. As I struggled up the hill, I started to notice that my IT band was getting really uncomfortable. Ironically, this is also the area where my favorite spot in the course was. The Fraternities and Sororities of the university all converged in one area to cheer on the runners. They were so loud and having fun. They were cheering for each one of the runners individually. They were, by far, the best spectators of the entire course. In fact, they may have been the best spectators of any race I have run. It could have been that I needed that kind of lift right then. It was the first time I had smiled in a while.
It was around this time that I knew that my PR was gone. However, I was encouraged to see the four-hour pacer up ahead of me. I wanted…no, I needed to catch up with her. I didn’t catch her on the uphill, but I thought I might be able to close the gap on the downhill. Unfortunately, her group picked it up a bit on that downhill too. Right past mile 19, I was still in reach and as I accelerated, my knee started hurting a lot. In fact, every time I ran faster than 9:00, I felt a shooting pain in the side of my knee. I had to walk at the water station. I watched her red and white balloons of the four hour pacer getting further and further away from me.
The next miles were the hardest miles of any race I have ever run. My body hurt everywhere and mentally, I was DONE. Whenever I stopped to walk, I started to cry. It was odd to cry with no tears…I’m pretty sure I sweated all my tears out long before that point. I was mad at myself. I felt weak. It was during the next couple miles that I doubted my mental strength to push through pain. I stopped trying. I stopped and walked whenever I felt like it, not waiting for an aid station. This week, looking back at my race, it was these last few miles that I am most disappointed with. I keep wondering if I gave up because I was off my goal or because I was physically incapable of pushing myself. I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Around mile 22 or so, I tried to rally some fun. Some guy was offering beer in dixie cups and I took one. I knew it couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, it tasted horrible. I’m not sure if it was just bad beer or if my taste buds were not tasting correctly. Earlier, I had eaten a couple of my Sour Patch Kids and they tasted nasty too. Next, there were some people handing out Mardi Gras beads. “Bead me!” I said to them. I thought I might as well look like a party if I didn’t feel like one. Unfortunately, they were really annoying and did nothing to improve my mood. But at that point, I am not sure if anything would.
It was around this time that I saw Lety. I had met Lety in Long Beach when I went down to run with my friend Nadine’s running group. She and Nadine had given me a tour of Long Beach and told me about the race. I was relieved to see a friendly face. I knew that if I forced myself to stay with her, I could finish strong, or at least finish. She told me that pain was “weakness leaving the body.” As we hit mile 23, I said, “I can do a 5K!” She reminded me that “5Ks hurt.” Oh, how right she was.
While I was running with Lety, I saw Aron on the sidelines. I knew that Aron knew exactly how I was feeling. I really felt connected to her when I read her race report from the Eugene Marathon in 2009. I truly felt her emotion in that post. How little did I know at the time that I would have a similar experience 18 months later. Some of the things she wrote, I can write myself today*. So when I saw her, I knew she was someone who would understand. I ran right up to her and said, “I need a hug.” Of course, she was so sweet and gave me a genuine hug. As I ran away from her, I realized that a) she had finished running the half and was long past sweaty and the last thing she needed was a sweaty runner giving her a hug and b) she and I have never actually met in person, so hugging a stranger might feel odd. But of course, she is a great person who has hugs to give.
I continued to run with Lety. My knee was really hurting me. I saw a woman spraying more of the Kool ‘N Fit spray. This time it really didn’t make a dent in the pain. Nothing was going to help at this point. I walked a bit and soon I saw Lety disappearing into the crowd. I was on my own for the last bit of the race. I have never wanted to quit any race more than I did at that moment.
Right before the course turned off of Ocean toward the finish, I realized that I was in no mood to finish with my Mardi Gras beads. I didn’t want anything to suggest I was in a party mood. I saw a little girl on the side of the road. I asked her mother if I could give her the beads. The little girl was thrilled. At least they did some good and made someone’s day.
I ran into the finish. Apparently, my friend, Stacey, watched me come in and cheered like crazy for me. I didn’t hear her. I think I was focusing on getting to that finish line. After finishing, all I could do was cry. I got my medal, my bag of food and a chocolate milk. I wanted to get out of there and go meet my friends and family** I went to go get my bag and waited in line an eternity***. Marci found me in line and as soon as I saw her, I started to cry. I was happy that she ran her sub-four marathon, but I was so disappointed in myself. I feel horrible that my sadness over my failure may have taken some of Marci’s wind out of her sails. She should have been able to celebrate her great accomplishment with me.
I was able to meet up with Aron and her friends and sat on the grass for them for a while. I had a bit of a wait for my people to get me and sitting with other marathoners was a nice way to keep from feeling too sorry for myself.
After the Northern California girls let for their hotel, I wandered around the area waiting for my family and friends. This was the toughest part of my post race experience. I was having a pretty good pity party. Luckily, I was able to bounce back pretty quickly once joining my post race party.**
I know I physically pushed my body by how sore I was the next few days. I was surprisingly sore. I feel better now. I feel better both physically and emotionally. It has been a good week and I have learned a lot**** There are no more tears and I have come to terms with the disaster of a race. I think the initial disappointment hurt so much because I had such high expectations.
Sometimes I wonder if I enjoy training for a marathon more than actually running it. I have only run four marathons, which makes me practically a novice. I definitely have a renewed respect for the marathon. I know that I have a lot to learn.
I do know that 4:15 is a decent marathon time. I know that crossing the finish line of any marathon is an accomplishment. It is easy to say those things a week later. But I am not in any rush to feel that disappointment again. I know that when I do finally run that dream race, it will feel that much more satisfying.
Thank you all for the support and encouragement. Thanks to all of you who read this novel of a race report. I know it was a long rambling mess.
*Aron wrote this in her post about her unsuccessful BQ attempt:
i do know this… no matter how much i hated the marathon today and wanted to quit, i know i will be back and i know i have that BQ in me. …, “i am just waiting for the perfect race to let my secret out” and i know when it does happen it will be that much better.**My family and Stacey’s family went out on a boat after the race and had a fabulous time. It was exactly what I needed to prevent me from wallowing in self pity. How can you pout about a race when you are on the ocean watching dolphins frolic. Seriously. The beer and company didn’t hurt either. ;-)
***I will write about some specific race issues in a separate post.
****I have a new perspective brought on by an outpouring of support from my friends and family. I will write about that in another post.