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.

goal free running

Three weeks since running the Mountains 2 Beach marathon and I’m starting to feel like I’m back to normal. Volume, frequency, and pace are well below my training levels and that’s ok.

weekly

Until I feel ready I’m running goal free. I decide my route the day of my run and let the pace come on its own.

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I usually find myself running the Strand along Redondo, Hermosa, or Manhattan Beach. Even on warm days, like today, the sea breeze keeps conditions just right.

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I can tell that my marathon recovery is coming to a close. I’m back to five runs this week and my legs are starting to feel fresh. Time to start thinking about the rest of 2016.

recover and reset

It’s been two weeks since I ran the Mountains 2 Beach marathon and it seems like so long ago. To myself: c’mon, get out there and start running!  Then from my body: hey, not so fast!  One of my training goals was to listen to my body and break a habit of riding my post-race enthusiasm to injury.

So I waited. I did not run at all for 10 days and then I started some goal-free workouts this week.

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My first run back was awful. Legs felt like lead, aches and pains that were fading away spoke up: you are not ready.  I took another break and finally had a decent run, a relaxing out-and-back along the Greenbelt.

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June in Southern California brings overcast and cool mornings and that’s perfect for me. The day after running the Greenbelt I felt good enough to follow up with a short run along the Strand.

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When I’m training I run solo so it was fun to take Alex today. He’s able to keep up with me and it won’t be long before I need to keep up with him. I’m looking forward to us running some 5K and 10K races later this year.

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I’m still not feeling 100%. This week was a good start and it left me wanting to run some more. I should be back to normal soon.

 

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.

m2bmap

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.