Surf City Marathon Race Report, February 4th, 2018
First race of the year! I did not attend a race in January, and I am now wondering if that was the first month I (accidentally) took off from racing in a long time, seriously, not even a 5k. It’s not that I was inactive, I got in at least one long run in mid-January, which I will talk about being undertrained for this race in a few.
I get very tired of the cold and winter and after moving to Wisconsin, that has gotten a whole lot worse. I don’t mind living in the area, but the weather is not my friend, and after 2 years I am still not used to it in the least. 0 degrees F is still 0 degrees, and no matter what layering techniques I use personally, I can’t escape feeling cold. Heck, I am cold right now at 65°F inside with the fire running. I am not cold adapted, and after reading a few articles, I found it takes the body roughly 4-6 weeks of working in the cold to really make physical adaptations. On the other hand, getting your body adapted to the heat takes far less time (approx. 2 weeks according to the articles). Since I typically also play dance games in my basement (without a fan most of the time, and my bike rides indoors are usually done without as well), I am more heat adapted than anything, so the 76°F high in the full sun on race day was my bread and butter and I enjoyed every nanosecond soaking it all in.
Quick life update though, mid January, I attended RRCA coaching certification classes in Punta Gorda, Florida. I recently passed my exam as well. While I was there, it was a fine opportunity to get in some long runs. At a measly 53°F, I went out for what turned out to be a 10 miler. There was no chance to refill water along the causeway in Clearwater, FL (where I ran), so when I was out, I called it. Took it super easy, had some light lunch with my friend, and that evening, did 4 mile increasing intervals where I made each mile faster than the last for a total of 14 some odd miles that day. I didn’t really “feel” the run, which I took as a positive. I didn’t feel the need to recover. However, I miscalculated the number of weeks before the race and missed out on a week of longer training. 14 odd miles ended up being my only long run. I had made many attempts to run outside however, but running below 42°F is not my forte (as evident in my last marathon, although a PR for me, it was the most horrible one I had run), so running below 20°F was killer. I usually manage to gather up a few miles before calling it quits because my form breaks down so much because of being so chilled. You might be saying, why not wear more layers? Well here’s usually what I would wear: I would wear one baselayer, a long sleeve tech shirt under that, and a pullover. It’s either that or the baselayer and tech and a windbreaker heat jacket (Altra brand love). For the bottom, ALWAYS tights/capris, compression shorts and usually socks too, and thermal pants on top of all that. I can NEVER stay warm. My head is generally covered with a thermal hat and wearing a buff or balaclava. My hands and feet oddly enough stay warm (shrug).
Anyway, my issues with cold still have not been solved. But I thrive in the heat…so let’s sign up for the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California! Let’s escape this winter, like so often I do now.
Low miles and deciding to run a marathon is a very bad idea, do not try this at home! I consider myself very experienced and know my own body very well from decades of sports (tennis and soccer). I did keep very active after Ironman and Xterra Maui, as I mentioned, I am highly active in dance games and was pushing myself several days a week hardly taking a break (this lead to some overtraining specific to that activity, of which I took some breaks in January breaking up more with biking and running). I continued to bike however. I did attempt to run several times too, but see above. When I did run however, it would be through the snow most of the time, so pace was slow and work was DONE. I do enjoy running in the snow, it’s a lot of fun, but requires so much attention.
My plan for this race, which was the first time I actually STUCK to a plan I made for myself, was to do a negative split (which was my plan for my last marathon and I failed fantastically), and I knew the only way I was going to accomplish this was to keep my heart rate low, sub 150 bpm for MY zones (please, don’t use my heart rate zones for yourself if you are reading, I have a very wide HR zone from 52 to 210, so my zone 2 is typically not typical for anyone else). Every time I would see my heart rate creep too high, I would walk. Then by mile 13, I would put on the jets and see how fast I could run the last half (being reasonable of course, like sustained “faster”). This was designed as a catered training race, the first time I had done this. And getting into more Ultra running this year, I know this is the mindset I need to start using to treat my body right. NEGATIVE SPLITS LET’S GO!
I wore typical marathon wear for myself, my singlet and compression shorts that I knew would save me from the dreaded chafe as much as possible, my trusty Altra Escalantes (which have now taken me through 3 marathons! And feel brand new still), but was going to try a few new things during this race! Uh oh you might be saying in your head, but THIS IS A TRAINING RUN right? If something goes wrong, then I will know better for longer distances than a marathon. Get out of my comfort zone, try things, take risks…
I checked the forecast daily, and what is was predicting was pretty spot on. Packet pickup was kind of chilly for me, around 70°F with the ocean breeze giving me occasional chills. I know I know, this is not Wisconsin, and I shouldn’t complain about 70 degrees, but I wasn’t running either and was without jacket. Packet pickup was pretty easy, and the only thing I would say that could have been better was that the shirt pickup and bib pickups were no where near each other. The expo was fairly large, but there weren’t too many brands repping there (other than nutrition ones like Nuun, Honey stinger, and Clif), it would have been nice to see more than local race companies advertising since a good amount of people running are not all locals to California.
Race morning, it was in the 40s, boo. I sucked it up knowing what was to come. But it took me until mile 15 to truly break sweat and be “warm”. I was still frozen at mile 6 lol. Anyway, parking was pretty easy, but the number of marathoners were a LOT lower than the half marathoners who would start over an hour later, so plenty of parking! Shuttles were easy to find and use pre-race. However, the drive from parking to race start was pretty long and I didn’t account for that. I arrived 5 minutes before the gun went off. So no warm up exercises, got stuck at the back of the pack with the 5:30 pacer. Rather than this hampering my mood, I took this in stride and relaxed more. I knew this was going to hurt, I knew this wasn’t going to be pretty with my training, lack thereof, and I knew it was going to be a long day…
I started my video montage however, and decided to make mini video clips of my experiences along the way since I wasn’t truly racing. I also decided that I was going to take pictures with every mile marker sign! I also also decided that I was not going to take any on course electrolytes. I have been watching what I’ve been putting in my body the past few weeks and noticed my sodium is in excess every day and I’ve had issues taking too much electrolyte during races in the past where my hands swell up like balloons to the point it’s difficult to make a fist! This lack of electrolyte during a race could cause issues, I knew this ahead of time. I also decided to use less nutrition in general to see how fat adapted I was, was there going to be a wall?! I was taking a lot of risks today.
The first few miles are all along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), a very flat road that followed the coastline (see cover picture). Then you take a turn and head inland for a bit, more park like. And the hill!
There was quite the hill. All this time I am keeping my heart rate low, mostly around 144, walking when I needed to keep it down. I was taking pictures and video too, it kept me relaxed and kept the miles flowing fast. Honestly, it went by so fast. Like I said above, the temperature stayed pretty chilly the first half, and I felt so cold when I would stop by the mile marker signs even for a few seconds to take pictures. I noticed around mile 7 there was frost in a nearby field!! I recorded my shock, and I could see my breath too! This part of the course was rather boring for me. But there weren’t that many people so that was nice. I had to stop at the port-o-potty during the first 6 miles though, I usually make this happen before a race starts, but I had no time and I was slightly nervous about the 6 hour cutoff (which I shouldn’t have been in any case). There’s a first time for everything!
The run went through Huntington Beach Central Park where a band of students were playing, like flutes, trumpets, ect. I remember playing instruments while cold, it makes tuning them a disaster! But they were fairly good and was impressed. I was more impressed with them than any other musical entertainment on course. Oh yeah, and there were all these students, probably late elementary to middle school ones, running around cheering– there were so many of them though! Other than that, I noticed one of the aid stations there were these Asians who were all wearing heavy winter coats.
For a moment, I laughed, but then thought again and realized, yeah, if I were in their position, I’d be wearing the same thing. There was another Asian later on a hill on course banging a gong! I later learned that apparently they are the “grandma’s/grandpa’s” in Korea (I forget the official words to use), which is super cool that they were out there supporting…I saw another at mile 17!
Moving on, around mile 8, I was intercepted by the MOB. What mob? The halfers. Those running a competitive half marathon had caught me, and the crowds grew fast. I was overwhelmed, my heart rate rose, and until mile 12 I was having a hard time keeping my pace low (the pace difference between us was so large that I was mentally making myself go faster, a bad combo). It was SO HARD keeping the pace low and thus Heart rate low. At one point, I was walking through an aid station and a half marathoner yelled at me “DON’T YOU DARE STOP, GET OUT.” His words were so harsh, my pleasant and calm mood was doused in sad faces. In addition, he threw his cup on the ground at my feet and it got my shoes wet and even hit my face. But this was soon dissapated.
One huge perk of this race is that you can see people since there are so many sharp turn arounds. Meaning that you go out and come back on the same road a few times. Alex was running the half and I was able to scream and smile at her while we crossed paths, this was the first time haha. I was also able to tell about what pace she was running by keeping an eye out for the half pacer signs. I had no idea where I was pace wise…I literally was only watching my garmin HR screen. Pace did not matter. And I think keeping it on a separate screen really helped my mental game.
Soon enough we were back on the PCH, and there were so many more people since the halfers were around. I continued doing what I did at aid stations, just drinking water. I felt fine. I did not feel like I had just run 10 miles at all, not even close. The major turn around point was at mile 12.5. This was the first aid station that had gels. THE FIRST. I grabbed two, one for now and one for later. This was a good decision because there were only two aid stations with nutrition that wasn’t water or nuun. Thank goodness for two pockets! I was not completely prepared by knowing the course nutrition ahead of time, but I knew enough I didn’t think I’d need to carry my own water for instance…the water stations were close enough together in my opinion (about 1.5-2 miles max). Plus it really wasn’t warm yet. MILE 13! Half way did not feel half way, I had so much in that darn tank, I took off. Heart rate jumped to 170 and was stable. I went from an 11:30 average pace to 10:00 pace, but felt comfortable in sustaining it. In addition, I was still stopping at every mile marker haha. My first half was around 2:31. It was starting to get beautiful out with the sun and heat, with the coast on my right now. The next 5k went by so fast, and now I was keeping pace with the half marathoners. I overheard them talking about having just one mile left and how they were shocked the marathoners had so much left to go. I giggled. I ran into Alex for a second time and high fived her as I passed by. There was more on course entertainment provided by the race, but the one I appreciated most wasn’t hire by the race and was the small group with Gangnam Style on repeat and were all dressed up like Psy and had masks on.
Mile 16, IT WAS WARM! I MADE IT! Victory dance! Literally, I have no idea what the people around me were thinking of my actions. I was having a party. I think everyone around me was too busy not dying though. Because from that point on, I was not passed by one single person, and everyone was walking for the most part. The course turned onto the bike paths even closer to the water. I started encountered the surfers and the tailgaters. Oh yeah, it was super bowl Sunday, the sportsball was happening. There were so many RVs lined up along the path. Mile 19, there were two guys who had a makeshift “aid station”, giving out (and grilling) bacon and beer. I took the bacon, and wondered if that would be a decision I would regret later. I noticed I was also at mile 20 in no time, and felt so good. What wall? I had had no electrolytes and one gel by this point. I decided to take a second gel. Oh and the second and last place to pick up a gel was mile 22, what? I think this was my main complaint about the race, why weren’t there more stations to get nutrition? There were so many people!
I stopped at mile 22 with my friend Robert who was nursing an injury. Otherwise, I did not stop after mile 13 (with the exception of my mile marker selfies). My heart rate was pretty stable at 168-173 the whole time. My fastest mile was mile 23.
AND my fastest three miles were the final 5k. I had SO MUCH to give! I think literally mile 11 was my hardest, my heart rate kept wanting to spike, and being surrounded by faster half marathoners was a bad combo. That mile was also my slowest. Returning back to the PCH, I knew I was at the finish and could taste it. No sprinting at the end, but I kept the pace going, making weird videos. I swear most of my race pics will be of me and my phone. But honestly, all that nonsense kept me so occupied, and my mind was so busy thinking about what I would do next. I felt fabulous. I finished in 4:54, accomplished my negative split. It was slow, but I feel very proud of holding back and experimenting with everything. I found out several things:
– I don’t need as much nutrition as I thought, at least for a marathoner (gels/electrolytes based on diet)
– I can run faster in the second half if I am careful
– Injinji socks work! No blisters with the baby powder
– I don’t need a PR to have fun
– This was the easiest marathon I have run to date and overall only felt like I ran a hard half
– I still have a great base fitness level and am still pretty fat adapted, really proud of this
– Wear sunscreen (oops)
– Wear hat or sunglasses if it’s sunny, the inconvenience would have been better than having a bad tan line from my headband I wore
I was taking my final video and got a message on my phone from Alex that read “look behind you”, so I kept rolling and saw she was standing right behind me! Now I was obsessed with finding chocolate milk. The site did not specifically say there would be any, but my fondest wishes were for the holy grail of finisher drinks. I ended up finding it! I got one, and asked for two (NEVER hurts to ask but I have been denied twice before), and got a 2nd. Some time later, I went to another volunteer at the milk tent and asked for two more. Victory is sweet.
I got away with no chafing, no blisters, and a soreness of a half marathon. I never hit a wall (unless you count mile 11 where I struggled with my targets I was trying to hit). I was surrounded by a great community thanks to Inknburn. Shoutouts to Chantal and Tanya for hanging out post race and letting me have some magic cream for my quads (probably the thing that is most sore), and helping me up and down from the sand. Shoutouts to Alex for tolerating me doing the marathon (being at the race early and leaving late, transportation, and housing and ALL THE FOOD EXPERIENCES OMGEEEEE), and the pump it up dance games too!
Shoutouts to the little hiking group from Saturday (Alex, Sarah PD and Sabrina, I think? And the guy! I’m horrible with names) where we hiked 8 miles in Chino Hills State park (spoilers, there were hills) before the race (insert laughing crying face here), and playing Pokemon Go walking to see Alex at work which is about 6 miles round trip the day before that. I totaled 12 walking miles and 30 running miles in 3 days. I don’t know how I managed the marathon actually with all that happened before.
My next race, I literally just signed up for this madness, is the Little Rock Marathon, where I will drive 11 hours south, stopping overnight with friends on the way there and back. I will apply the same technique as I did this time in hopes to be successful. I have a goal of a 50k (31 miles) on my birthday, where I will turn 31 years old, and I am hoping to gain enough fitness to place at that race, in late March. After that, I have Zion 50k.
Recap of items used:
Inknburn Kai Singlet and Spring shorts
Some new glide that worked ok
Baby powder (inside socks)
1 Piece of Bacon
My phone, Pixel 2 XL