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.

the luck of the irish

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When Ruby told me she wanted to run the St. Patrick’s 5k in Redondo Beach, I jumped at the chance and signed up both of us. We’ve been running Sundays for over a year and now we were going to race together. I’m right in the meat of preparing for the Chesebro Canyon Half Marathon, so I set my expectations to casual. I had no idea it would turn out to be one of my best races ever. What started out to be a fun run ended up as a massive PR and a sub-20 finish.

A week before the race, I logged over 60 miles including a hilly 19 miler. Most of my current training includes hills since Chesebro’s course runs up and down a mountain. The miles caught up with me. I received the gift of heavy legs struggled to pull myself out of bed each morning. I managed only two runs instead of my usual five or six, somehow believing that I was tapering, but wondering if I would be prepared on Sunday.

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Meanwhile daylight savings arrived, catching both of us by surprise. Race day found us grumpy and stumbling about in darkness that gave way to a  foggy and overcast morning. After parking and a quick warm up we were ready to go. Ruby and I fist-bumped and separated. I moved up to the front of the pack since I wanted to be clear of the starting crush. Somebody gave a speech. The national anthem played. Then we were off!

After so much long distance training, the race was a short intense blur. I remember a pack of kids sprinting out in front of me then falling back during the first mile. At the turn, a race volunteer yelled out our time, “6:11!” Crap, that was fifteen seconds too fast. Did I destroy my chances of a strong finish? My watch said 6:18, not much slower but closer to my goal pace of 6:25. I approached the next mile carefully- maybe too carefully. At mile two my watch beeped 6:33, too slow. I was in pacing limbo. I needed to run a strong third mile. But how strong?

I failed to realize the slightly uphill second mile contributed to my slowing. Plus it set me up for a downhill finish. In the moment, I was trying to maintain my pace through a consistent effort.  I was  unaware of any other runners. The thick fog became my ally since I could not see the remaining distance. With a half mile to go the finish line emerged from the mist and I pulled myself together for my kick. As I crossed the finish line I spied 19:38 on the clock, a minute faster than my previous best. After a dry heave or two I grabbed a cup of water and wandered back to find Ruby.

I spotted her about 200 yards from the finish and joined in for her kick. I made sure to let her finish ahead of me. After a brief recovery our post race relief kicked in and we high-fived our way to the water stand. This was when I realized that I had just crushed my PR. Now I could enjoy the post-race atmosphere and we congratulated the other runners, a leprechaun, and some faeries.

When the dust settled, my 19:38 placed me 26 out of 1166, third in my age group, and just under 6:20 per mile. Ruby also beat her PR handily.  I did not understand my results. Was my speed work for last month’s Superbowl Sunday 10K still paying dividends? I earned a shot of confidence as I train for the Chesebro Half in April and Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in May.

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With the help of my PR, I regained my appreciation and enthusiasm for the 5K. I’ve tried to play the race back in my mind but the memory is fading fast. It only took a day or two for me to ask, why not 19:00? Maybe, but for now I will enjoy my results as I set my sights toward my upcoming half and looming marathon.