mountains 2 beach marathon 2017

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As I lined up at the 2017 Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, I could not help thinking back to last year’s spectacular crash and burn at mile twenty. My suicide pace, forgetting to eat and drink along the way, and inability to let the miles come to me sealed my fate. I managed to finish, but shambled through the last six miles while getting passed by other runners the entire way. When the dust settled, I doubled down on M2B and resolved to try again.

Mountains 2 Beach starts in Ojai, CA, and runs point-to-point to Ventura and the Pacific Ocean. The first six miles loop through the Ojai valley then drop steadily for another sixteen. The remaining four miles are flat and cross downtown Ventura before a final sprint along the coast. It’s a fast course and runners from all over the country enter for a chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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My 2016 training indicated I had an outside chance to BQ, but I fell short by twenty minutes. My strong preparation convinced me to repeat my plan and I began race specific workouts this February. I entered four races during my training cycle: two 5Ks and a 10K early on, then a trail half marathon midway through. I noticed a significant gain in speed and endurance. My long run pace approached my goal marathon pace of 7:45-7:55. The final long training run was a nice confidence builder when I completed miles 15-20 at tempo pace.

Back to race day. Ruby and I spent the night in Ventura and woke up at 3:30 to get ready. Ruby dropped me at a shuttle to the starting area and headed back to bed. A good night’s sleep helped me feel loose and relaxed. There were 3500 runners divided into three starting waves. I was in wave number two, the 3:20-3:40 group. At 6:00 am sharp the first wave started, and two minutes later I was off. We covered the first two miles before sunrise. I reached the first water station and remembered to take a cup even though I was not thirsty. I found the 3:27 pace group and settled in to the race.

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

The first thirteen miles remained steady and uneventful- exactly how I wanted them to be. I continued to stick with the pace group running consistent 7:45 splits. I made sure to eat a bite of Clif Bar every mile and a half and to continue hitting the water stations. We were running mostly downhill along streets and a bike path, shaded by large oak trees. I felt loose and strong.

At the half, our pacer turned around and said, “Sorry everyone, I’ve been running too fast. We are on pace for a 3:24.” Cue my flashback to 2016 when I ran the first half too fast and sabotaged my finish. A wave of panic coursed through me. My heart rate shot up. I needed a bathroom stop. With the now 3:24 group in front of me, I pulled myself together and continued, trying to focus on relaxed running. My heart rate returned to normal, or at least normal for having raced fifteen miles. At mile sixteen I started eating glucose tablets- according to my plan- and resumed racing at a steady clip.

When I reached twenty miles I saw the exact spot where I hit the wall in 2016. I prepared myself for an internal motivation session, but I did not need one. I felt good. The course flattened out and I was running in the 7:50s. At the same time, the trees thinned, leaving me exposed to the sun. My test was about to begin.

The final six miles fell into three two-mile sections. From 20-22, I was aware of my increasing fatigue and occasional pain in my hips, quads, and feet. Somehow, I detached from my body, rationalized the discomfort, and kept going. I ran 7:50 and 8:03 splits. I was tiring and paying for the first half’s aggressive pacing.  During miles 23 and 24 I started negotiating with myself and forced myself to keep going. When I reached the final water station, I walked through and grabbed a cup, just like I’d done at the other stations, but then I kept walking. My watch beeped 8:29, by far my worst split. I had enough presence to realize that if I slowed down I was in danger of missing my goal time of 3:27. I had spent a year staying healthy, four months training, and I was 24/26 of the way through this race. There was no way I could quit now and if I could hold on for another 15-20 minutes I’d be done.

I ran 25 at 7:59 and 26 at 8:03. I had enough energy left to sprint the final point-two. As the finish came into view I was on auto pilot. The stragglers from the half marathon were finishing at the same time, and I passed at least a dozen runners, giving me an illusion of speed. The next thing I remembered was leaning against a fence with a bottle of water and finisher’s medal. Ruby joined me. Thirty minutes and one bag of ice later, we got up and began our trip home.

My final time was 3:26:15, a 7:52 pace, and enough to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon. It’s been a week since Mountains 2 Beach and the step by step experience is beginning to fade away. I am enjoying some rest and starting to go on short easy runs. While looking ahead to the 2018 Boston Marathon, I’ll have plenty of time to recharge and begin another round of running and racing adventures.

m2b marathon race report

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I wanted to run a marathon since 2011. My desire was sorely tested through IT band setbacks, rebuilding my core strength, and learning proper running form.

But I persevered, got healthy, and started putting in the miles.

Last year I ran four half marathons and lowered my time by 12 minutes. Four months ago I started marathon training. When I lined up for the 2016 Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, I felt excited and ready to run.

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M2B was the ideal first marathon for me. The point to point course started in Ojai, CA, and finished at the Pacific Ocean in Ventura Beach. There were about 3000 runners, enough to feel like an event but not so many to make the race crowded. After a slight climb at the start, the road maintained a gentle downhill slope all the way to the beach.

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The starting horn sounded at 6:00 am, just after sunrise. Conditions were perfect. About 55 degrees and drizzly in Ojai then overcast and 60 in Ventura. During my training I experimented with shoes, clothes, and nutrition. My plan for the race was to drink water every three miles and eat a gel every six. I wore New Balance Zante 2’s, compression socks, shorts and a singlet. Two hours earlier, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a banana. At 5:45, I took my first gel.

When I race it can take me a few minutes to get into the flow and find my pace. But not today. From the start I was loose and felt I was running at my goal pace of 7:50.  My splits put me a little slower but after accounting for the initial climb I was right where I wanted to be. Three miles in I was supremely confident.

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During the early miles I was bunched up with the 3:23 pace group, five minutes faster than my goal time. I felt so good that I decided to stick with them, my first big mistake. I was running 20-30 seconds ahead of the pace I trained for and at 13.1 miles I had run my third fasted half marathon ever. I still felt strong and thought I could hold up for the second half. I just made mistake number two.

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon

I continued through mile 17 at about 7:50. During the next three miles I started to slow but did not realize that I was running close to a minute slower than my goal pace. Then at mile 21 I hit the wall.

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I hurt everywhere. Each step became a struggle. I tried to convince myself that the last six miles were the same as an easy run, but the last six miles seemed to stretch out forever. During miles 22 through 25 I would walk for a minute or two and then try to run. From the moment I started walking I knew I would not make my time.

As runners continued to pass me I realized that my goal to run a marathon was still waiting for me. When I reached mile 25 I vowed to run and finish strong. I reached into myself deeper than I had ever done before to keep running. As I passed through the chute I heard my name announced and I was done. Not finished. Done.

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Thirty minutes later I did not feel like dying anymore but I was spent. I finally checked my watch and saw that I finished in 3:46:25, with an average pace of 8:38 per mile. Not what I originally wanted but I’ll take it.

I’ve been on an emotional high since then.  Despite the pain, I came through uninjured except for a blister on my left foot. Now that I know what to expect I can already see how I will run differently: be patient at the start and stay strong for all 26.2 miles.

The marathon and I have some unfinished business. I want to put together a race where I run negative splits, and where I use my training to follow the right race strategy. I’m going to take it easy this month and ease back into training. I know I can do better next time and I want next time to be later this year. I am a marathoner. It feels good to say that.

mountains 2 beach marathon

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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.

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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.

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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.

week 15: tune up

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

peak week 14

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Taper time!

 

marathon week 12: step back

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

marathon week 11: good and bad

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I skipped two runs this week. Eleven weeks into my training and for the first time I was not able to follow my training plan.

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Maybe it was the previous week’s mileage capped by a 21 mile long run or maybe I ran my recent workouts too fast. Whatever it was, I could not get myself out of bed and missed my tempo run and a recovery run. In the past I would overcompensate and try to make up the miles. The extra strain sidelined me with IT band injuries twice.

This time I decided to use the days off to rest and resume training when I felt better. I know I made the right choice because I ran strong on Friday and finished the week with a 20 mile long run.

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I’m using my long runs to rehearse for the marathon. This week I ate breakfast two hours before running, drank water at two mile intervals and took gels every six miles. Running along the coast simulates the second half of the race and the sea breeze cooled me through the final miles. Today’s run was a good test. I wanted to quit at 15 and 17 miles but pushed through and practiced training with discomfort. I need to find an extra six miles of energy and I hope finishing my plan plus my taper gets me there.