I went out and ran the Ragnar Relay SoCal the weekend before on Friday-Saturday. My total mileage for the race was 26 miles. Ragnar left me exhausted and feeling SO sluggish all week. To be honest, all week I doubted that I could even complete a marathon the next Sunday. My longest run between LA Marathon and now had only been 12 miles. And I had done a couple other 10 milers here and there but I had mostly been training with short runs. And I had had several sucky runs. And the additional strength training sessions at the gym had me feeling wiped out for the past few weeks. I was now struggling when running 9min pace on most days :/
I tried to remain in denial about this race for the first part of the week but as the days progressed and it was getting close to the weekend I started to get really scared. I felt like this race was going suck just like LA because not only did I feel unprepared but I also felt tired.
Tracy and I were sharing a room at the travelodge in Costa Mesa for the night because the race was starting so early on Sunday and we both wanted to sleep as much as possible before. So I picked her up at around 3pm and started driving to Orange County. My stomach was in knots the entire time. I tried to remain calm but I knew the next morning was not going to be easy.
We got to OC and headed to the expo where we briefly met up with Dominic and Zach. I went to get my bib and t-shirt. Tracy and I were both underwhelmed with the expo. The shirt sucks and there wasn't much to see at the expo. We stayed only a little while and bought a couple of things, then left to go check in at our hotel before heading out to our carbo-load dinner at Cheesecake Factory with a bunch of DailyMile friends.
At dinner we met up with some people I had already met like Dawne, Michael, Jen, Zach...but there were also a couple new faces I hadn't met before. Dinner was good and the company was great! Ate some yummy pasta and had half a glass of beer. I tried not to eat too much so that I wouldn't feel heavy the next morning.
Dinner came to an end and we headed back to our motel. Tracy and I got into bed by 10pm but we had some rowdy neighbors who were up all night partying. I was in and out of sleep most of the night. I was nervous about the race, I was also upset about some personal things, I was scared...I kept tossing and turning. I maybe slept a total or 3.5 hours. Thank goodness I made it a point to sleep in the night before!
Got up at 4am. Finalized the clothes I would wear for the race. Took a real quick shower just to wake up and we were out the door by 5am. We were so lucky that Jen's boyfriend, Jose, was there and he offered to drive my car and drop us off at the start so that we didn't have to take the shuttle! So Tracy, Jen, Zach, Chris and I all piled into my dirty Xterra and off we went to the start line. We got there with about an hour to spare 'til start time. We met up with Dominic and checked our bags in, took some silly pre-race photos, and took our last potty breaks before the race. I was SO SCARED! I wanted to puke and cry at the same time. Finally it was time to go line up at the start, we all said good luck to each other and hugged goodbye. Tracy and Dom helped me find the 4:00hr pace group, then went off to the front. Jen stayed with me and I kept telling her I was going to cry. Thank goodness she was there with me because it calmed me down a little bit. She reassured me that I'd be fine.
Get it together. Get it together!
Myself, Jen, and Tracy before the start
The gun went off shortly after 6:30am. ~6,000+ runners doing the half marathon and ~1,500 runners doing the full marathon. I took the first mile real easy. I knew it was going to be a tough morning but I told myself I needed to smile and have fun while I could. Smile through it was my motto for this race. Talking to Tracy the night before I decided I would carry a little water bottle with me and skip the first 6 water stops so as not to waste extra time slowing down and walking to chug water down. God knows I still don't know how to run and drink from a cup at the same time! :/
I focused on the pretty scenery. The first couple of miles were by the water and downhill so it was pretty easy. Legs were warming up. I focused on breathing through my nose and feeling comfortable. When the first couple little hills showed up I slowed down a little so as not to waste too much energy on them. I knew that I could run the first 10 miles and be fine, it was how I felt after 13 that I was worried about. I decided I would try to keep this 8:50 pace for the first half. Adjusting accordingly if there were hills, I wasn't going to panic if my watch read in the low 9s. I skipped the first 5 water stops and then I took my first hammer gel at around mile 5.5 right before getting into the nature reserve area. This place felt really peaceful and I felt good. We were still running with all the half-marathoners so I had to do some dodging around to pass people. And it was kind of annoying because some people tried to block me or race me, I just wanted to turn and be like, "Hey! I'm running the full! Relax!" It got a little crowded through certain parts of the course and I had to slow down because I'd be stuck behind a group of people.
I caught up to the 4:00 pace group at around mile 9. Clearly they had been running faster than 4:00 pace.
I really don't like pace groups. I think because I train alone, it makes me too anxious to run with other people. I saw the group up ahead of me but didn't try to speed up to join them. I kept them within my sight for the next 6 miles.
At the 12th mile mark, the half-marathoners took a turn towards their finish and the marathoners kept going straight! I threw up my arms in a "Yeah, I'm a badass running 26.2!" gesture and continued on. I took my second hammer gel at the next water station.
Right around the 13th mile mark, I spotted Michael (my Ragnar teammate) passing me! I called his name and we said hello. We had a brief chat about how we were feeling. We both commented on how good we felt compared to the LA marathon. He had been running with the 4:00 group apparently but had stopped at the port-o-potties and was now catching back up. He asked if I was going to join the pace group but I waved goodbye and I told him I was trying to run my own race. He ran off to rejoin the pace group.
So I continued running at my own pace, still in the 8:50-9:00 range. There was a steep hill over the 405 overpass. I saw some people walking it. I focused on running it slow and just getting to the top. I smiled when I reached the top and kept going.
At around mile 15 I started to feel real good. I was so happy! I kept smiling at every rare spectator on the course, at the volunteers, and the mile markers...anything! Instead of thinking, "Crap, I have 11 more miles to go :(" I kept thinking..."ONLY 11 miles to go! Piece of cake! 10 miles are nothing for you!"
I eventually caught up to the 4:00 pace group around this time and passed them. I then passed Michael. I waved hello and kept going. My new strategy was to push the pace during the next 5 miles and then do anything possible to hang on during the last 6 miles. I was in the zone. Soon after Michael caught up to me again and we ran together for a little while. Our 19th mile that we ran together was at 8:34 pace! Which is crazy for the 19TH MILE!?! Well, at least for me it is crazy. I felt good...but I started to stress out about running with him. I started to feel like I needed to slow it back down a little bit and I didn't want to slow him down. I walked the 20th mile water station and took my last hammer gel and he kept going ahead of me.
The last 6 miles were going to test every part of my being! I was tired and yes, my legs hurt but I was grateful that I was not cramping up. Did I want to walk? Oh good lord, yes! But I kept telling myself I needed to keep moving. I was making good time. If I kept this up I could finish in SUB-4 HOURS!!! I was not going to let this get away from me. I was so close! Just a 10K! I smiled through the pain, I passed runners hitting the wall, I kept Michael in sight. Seeing him running up ahead helped me so much. My goal was to not let him disappear from my sight. I caught up to him at some point maybe during mile 23 and we ran together for a little while again. We didn't talk. I could not talk. Any little energy needed to go towards picking up my legs. I continued to hit my 8:50-low9:00 pace. Michael said he needed to walk, I tried to cheer him on but I figured he'd catch up again. I kept telling myself that I needed to keep running. I would allow myself to walk the hill on mile 24 before making the push for the finish.
I got to mile 24 and saw the hill. It really wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined but after running 24 miles, it wasn't easy to climb. I took two short power-walking breaks here. 10:28 pace for that mile and the only mile that got above 9:15 during the entire race!
After that we ran through some small neighborhood streets. I smiled as much as I could. Kept telling myself I was almost there. Saw more runners walking and tried to cheer them on. I threw away my little water bottle that I had carried since the start line! It was time to pump those arms as fast as I could manage.
I hit mile 25 and began to get really emotional. If I continued to run I would definitely finish in under 4 hours! My Garmin had lost reception under the freeway overpasses so it was reading my mileage about .13 short. So while calculating my finish time, I figured I could make it in 3:55. I reached the fairgrounds and went into the finishing chute which stretched about 200 meters...I began to cry. I could not hold it in. I sped up and gave it my all. I crossed the finish line!
I had done it. I had finished in under 4 hours! My first sub-4 marathon! A PR of 22 minutes! One month after the LA marathon! One week after running 26 miles at Ragnar! And I didn't hit the wall! I had run the entire distance! (well, mostly...hehe)
I was so happy I was crying. I heard someone call my name and it was Dawne! She was so happy for me. I love my runner friends! They are so supportive and we all understand how much this means to us. She and I had both wanted to run sub-4 during the LA marathon and both had bad races that day. So I think she, more than anyone, understood how I felt at that moment. Accomplishing something that to most people may not matter, but to me, it's was a huge milestone.
I had a great race at OC. It was near perfect. I ran a smart race and came away with a completely different experience than any other marathon before. Here are the things I did differently that I think had a great impact on the outcome of this race.
1. Proper nutrition and proper rest.
I carbo-loaded properly. Lots of complex carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, fruit and veggies. I also managed to get lots of sleep the 2 nights before Saturday. So even though I didn't sleep much Saturday night, I was still pretty rested.
2. I held back during the first half of the race. I made sure to run a comfortable pace. I did not panic if I saw my pace slip into the 9s.
3. I skipped the first 5 water stops and carried a little water bottle with me the whole way. This saved me some time and the bottle gave me a sense of security. If I felt thirsty, I had something with me but it wasn't heavy enough to get in the way.
4. Because I did not go out too fast, I was able to have negative splits during the second half. This made a world of difference! I had enough energy to push through miles 14-20 and then hang on during the last 6 when I would usually hit the wall.
5. Most importantly, I smiled through the whole thing. I kept a positive attitude instead of letting my fears take over. I also went in with no expectations. I simply wanted to finish it. I was hoping for a PR but thought maybe I'd manage under 4:10. I think realizing, around the 15th mile mark, that I could run sub-4, gave me the boost of energy and confidence to push through my mental and physical barriers during the last 10 miles.
What an amazing experience. And I owe so much of it to the inspiration that my friends provide. Tracy, Janel, Teresa, Dominic, Dawne, Michael, Jen, Zach, and the rest of the dailymilers...My new Ragnar family, Jen, Jenny, JT, Claudia, Dan and Augi...who I know were all rooting for me. Everyone has been so supportive and inspirational. It makes a world of difference. The rest of the people in my life may not understand it, but these people GET IT! And it's great to have that support system.
Tracy, Dominic, and I after the race
I still can't believe it! This race went so well for me. I hope to have similar experiences in the future. And knowing that I could run this time, makes me feel like I can someday qualify for Boston. I just have to work hard and believe in myself.
I'm going on hiatus from work starting at the end of this week. About 3 months that I can spend training and enjoying life outside of work.
I'm signed up for Bay to Breakers in SF on May 16 but that's all kind of up in the air right now since Tracy suffered an injury and now can't run for a few weeks :(
I'm also registered to run the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on June 6th and a group of us was supposed to run it together. I guess that's all kind of up in the air right now as well.
I want my marathon maniacs jersey. I want my BQ at some point in the next couple of years. I want to get better and faster. I would like to run an ultra someday. We'll see where this journey takes me.