All of my planning, training, and hard work prepared me to run my first marathon. But until the race I had no idea what it was like to finish a marathon. Now I do.
Mountains 2 Beach was a great race. The course starts in Ojai, CA, circles through the town and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Ventura. Conditions were perfect: overcast with some drizzle, temperatures in the 50s, no wind.
I woke up at 3:45, ate the breakfast I rehearsed for the past two months, went through my warm up routine, and drove up to Ojai with my friend and fellow runner Alex. There were about 3000 participants and we started in three waves spaced two minutes apart. I was in wave two and when the horn sounded my adventure began.
During my long training runs it took me a mile or two to find my stride. But today I felt great right at the start. It was difficult to find enough space to really stretch out and I realized that I was in a group of runners with the same goal time: 3:25-30. Compared to my shorter race distances the pack held a nice rhythm. I didn’t need to worry about bunching up or clipping anybody.
The first third of the race was a blur. I felt loose and was running 15-20 seconds ahead of my goal time. That was my first mistake. I continued to hold my pace and to feel great. At the half my split was my third fastest half marathon ever and I still didn’t realize I was running way too fast. Mistake number two. I pressed on and held up through twenty miles.
That’s when I hit the wall. Wow. I did not fade. Instead, I went from 100 percent to nothing instantly. I started walking and after a minute or two tried to run again. I continued to walk-run until I reached mile 25. I vowed to finish strong and gathered myself for the final mile.
I held on and even managed to accelerate as I approached the finish. When I crossed I was absolutely sure that I’d never felt worse in my life. But at the same time I started to feel a sense of accomplishment. What started out as a crazy idea five years ago transformed into a body of work that got me across the finish line. A half hour later I no longer felt like dying and I’ve been on a high ever since.
Now that I know what it takes, I’m determined to try again. To run with more patience and go for a negative split. I have some recovery days ahead of me with plenty of time for planning my second marathon.
I started my taper this week, dropping down to 35 miles. Since I had been running 50-60 miles leading up to week 15, my legs had some extra spring that helped me complete two of my more difficult runs.
On Wednesday I ran a mile at tempo and then eight two-minute repeats at my 10k pace. This run took a lot out of me. While gasping for air at the finish I was glad my speed workouts were over. I was still a little tired from the previous weekend’s 20-miler so I’m starting to appreciate my two week taper.
I picked up my race packet on Saturday and finally seeing my bib put 16 weeks of training into focus. My race is only a week away and the hard work is behind me. I’m slightly fatigued but not injured. With a light week of training ahead I know I will be ready on race day.
Sunday’s run was my last tune up before the marathon. I ran ten miles with the final seven at my goal pace of 7:45. I started in Hermosa Beach and headed south to RAT beach and then back along the Strand. The morning was cool and clear, just like next weekend’s forecast. I tried to simulate race conditions by leaving at the start time, wearing my racing gear, and going through my warm up and fueling routine.
I usually have trouble holding my pace but I nailed it today. I felt good during the run but it was daunting to imagine adding another 16 miles. My race strategy is to start much like I started this run, work up to pace and then hold it for as long as I can. I’m confident I can get to 22 miles- about as far as my longest training runs- and the rest will be new territory.
I can’t say how it will turn out but that’s why we do it, right?
My final week of training before a two week taper. I made it! But why do I feel so beat up? Did I over train and run my race already? Will I be fresh on race day?
My final long run started in Hermosa Beach and took me north to Marina del Rey, passing through Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, LAX, and Playa del Rey.
After 14 miles I ran five more at my goal pace of 7:45. When I finished I had run 20+ miles and felt awful. I hurt everywhere and felt out of it all day. Was I prepared for the marathon?
I looked back to where my running was before 2016 and how far I’d come since. Maybe a before and after comparison would help me understand if I was ready to run- to race- the marathon.
What I realized:
- I can run 10 miles any time I want to.
- During a recent tempo run I beat my 10K pr.
- I run six days a week.
- I completed a 20-mile run once in my life before starting my marathon training; I ran four 20-milers over the last five weeks.
And the big one:
- I’m tired, sore, and sometimes disoriented. But I am not injured!
Before starting to train for M2B I considered all of the above unattainable. I may not feel it now, but I made a huge leap in my running performance, fitness and endurance. Physically, my training is complete. I’m heading into new territory mentally but I can feel confident and count on my body.
Three weeks left until race day and I survived my toughest week of training, maybe my toughest week of all time. Out of six runs, three were demanding workouts with three “normal” runs in between.
Monday: a seven miler with strides at the finish. My legs still felt the previous weekend’s long run so I started slowly, trying to stay loose and focus on my form.
Tuesday: a double workout. Over 11.5 miles I ran a two mile stretch at 10K (6:45) pace and then did eight one-minute repeats. I often do my speed work along the LA River, not the most scenic course but fast. The final two repeats were a struggle and I thought my cool down would never end. I was slightly dazed for the rest of the day
Wednesday: an easy six mile run followed by a trip to the dentist.
Thursday: another workout; a ten mile run with the last five at goal race pace. I’m aiming for 7:45 but ran 7:30s instead. I can’t seem to get the feel for my pace and I don’t want to start too fast at M2B. I warmed up along the Greenbelt and finished on the Strand to simulate the bike path that makes up most of the race course.
Friday: rest day!
Saturday: long run. At 21.25 miles my longest training run and my longest run ever. I’d been anticipating this workout for weeks, at times dreading it. But as my training progressed, I began looking forward to the challenge. I started in Hermosa Beach and ran to the Palos Verdes peninsula. In the picture you can see Hermosa in the distance from the PV bluffs. I did not worry about the pace and focused on my running form and strength over the entire distance. When I checked my data I was happy to discover that I consistently held 8:00 during the later miles, and this run became a big confidence builder.
Sunday: eight mile recovery run. As I finished I recalled how eight miles used to be a long run for me, and not too long ago.
Next week is another big effort. The same workouts but slightly fewer miles. Then a two week taper before my race. I know that I can’t prepare for everything but I’ve been able to stick to my marathon plan and I feel confident my training will help me break 3:30:00.
Week 12 is in the books. I’m into my final month of training and this week was a scheduled “step back” before my most challenging workouts.
My motivation returned and I completed all of my runs. Spring in Southern California certainly helped. Every morning I ran was perfect. During the week I trained at Griffith Park and ran at the beach over the weekend.
While running I started to feel anticipation for my race. After I warmed up and settled into my workout pace I needed to calm myself and stay focused on running loose and relaxed. Channeling my nervous energy was good practice for race day. I’m always amped before a race and need to hold myself in check for the first few miles.
Saturday’s long run at The Strand felt like my first real tune-up for the marathon. I ran 19 miles and the final five were at my goal pace. To use my long run as race practice, I woke up at 4:00 am and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went back to sleep and then woke again at 5:30 to prepare. This included eating a banana, putting on sunscreen, and doing my dynamic warm up drills. I started my run slowly and spent the first two miles warming up to my long run pace, about 8:15-20.
I stopped for water every 2-3 miles to simulate the water stations on the M2B racecourse and ate a gel every six miles. When I reached 13 miles I ran the next five holding what I thought would be my race pace. The good news: what felt like eight minute miles was actually 7:30s. The bad news: if I do this during the race I’ll crap out before I finish. I learned that I need to practice feeling my goal pace of 7:45-8:00 this month.
I was gassed at the end of my run but my recovery went well and I ran an easy 10k the next day. I’m heading into my two most difficult weeks of training- over 60 miles each week with +20 mile long runs. But I feel ready. These twelve weeks of hard work is like money in the bank. Bring it on.