I listened to my body and it told me that another 26.2er sounded great. A race closer to home also sounded very good after two weekends of travel, although I would again be working/exhibiting at the OC Marathon expo the day before. I was there for the busiest part of the expo, however, so the time passed quickly.
The OC Half Marathon was Leti’s first half marathon in 2014, so I convinced her that she had to return for round two. I wanted her to see how different it would be one year later and with multiple other races and distances on her legs. I knew it would be a better experience for her having completed a full marathon and also being better trained.
We met at the office at 3:20am (ouch) and arrived at the OC Fairgrounds at 3:45am. The course starts at Fashion Island, in Newport Beach, and ends at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Buses shuttle runners from the finish to the start between 3:45am and 5:00am. Since the full marathon starts at 5:30am, I wanted to be at the start by 4:45. We ended up arriving well before that time, which meant no porta potty lines! I spotted a generator, so we plopped down on the grass next to it for warmth. We were both wearing tank tops and felt a bit chilled, but it really wasn’t too cold. Despite having hardly slept the night before, I was awake, alert and ready to run. The start line area and corrals began to fill up after 5:15am am and I found myself in a corral at about 5:20am. I scanned the crowd for familiar faces, listened to the national anthem, and then we started.
The first mile takes runners out of Fashion Island and toward Corona Del Mar. I like this part of the course because I’ve enjoyed some great runs with friends on these streets before. It is a quiet segment – residents aren’t cheering loudly for us yet either because they think we are weird for spending our Sunday morning running 26.2 miles or because it’s 5:30am. Their facial expressions show it may be the former. I distributed a few “good morning!”s and received a few in return. In retrospect, it’s nice to see residents sitting outside (of their very expensive homes) enjoying coffee and silently rooting for us. It has a calm, cozy and comforting feeling to it.
After a small loop, we pass Balboa Island and run toward Newport Bay (aka Back Bay). I’ve run Back Bay a countless number of times, and usually with great company, so this part of the course is familiar and I reminisce about those past runs. Though we don’t run the full loop for the OC Marathon, we run up on the ridge, which is the most scenic segment. I commented to a few nearby runners that they should really stage a photographer on top of one of the houses in order to get a picture of us with the beautiful landscape below. The beauty of the ridge works to distract runners from the impending rollers. I don’t particularly like the second section of the Back Bay loop which makes up miles 9 through 10 of the marathon course. We run through a hilly neighborhood and it is boring. However, I knew I would be seeing a few friends who were going to be on a training run in this area, so I was excited to see them.
It was at this point when I began to think about the 2014 OC Marathon. I went out with the 3:10 pace group and was running comfortably with Bob, the pacer from A Snail’s Pace Running Club. A small group formed which included myself, Bob, a Marine named Thomas and a runner from Utah whose name evades my memory. We talked about running, families (Utah runner had 7 kids!), and covered various other topics for 13 or so miles. I became Facebook friends with Bob and Thomas and have since run into them at other races. In fact, I shared a few miles with Bob during the week prior’s Big Sur Marathon! I can’t express enough how fortunate I feel to meet so many interesting and gracious people through running.
After a long climb at mile 12.3ish, we hit the halfway point and I assessed how I felt. My breathing was even and my legs felt 3/10 tired. I was stable, sweaty and smiling. Around mile 14, I noticed a female ahead of me who seemed really tense and like she was working hard to maintain pace. I wanted to urge her to relax, but find that doling advice out to a) runners who seem to be struggling, b) other females, is not always welcome. We danced back and forth for about a mile until a significant climb at mile 15, when I pulled ahead. A left turn took us onto a long straightaway with a very short out-and-back on a random side road thrown in, you know, to keep it interesting. We passed the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and the concert hall, run through South Coast Plaza, and then into more neighborhood. Mile 18 is on the Segerstrom High School campus and it was at this point that an extremely fast male sprinted past me like I was standing still. He had either started very late, or was the lead male for the half marathon. I began to mentally prepare for the riverbed, which is where I started to feel the marathon-fatigue last year.
The riverbed segment starts right after mile 20. This is usually where I start to break the remaining distance up into smaller chunks. Depending on how I feel, I either focus on two 5Ks to go, or on getting to the next mile marker. I felt much better at this point than I did in 2014, but was still ready for a finish line. My favorite water station of the course is located at mile 23 and I was looking very forward to it. There is a giant wooden UFO and a blow-up alien set up right before the freeway overpass tunnel that leads to the station. Inside of the tunnel are bubble machines! The group of volunteers is a mix of inflatable aliens and enthusiastic humans. They provide great energy at this point in the race. Though we are only on the riverbed for slightly under 2 miles, it feels like 5 miles.
Miles 22 through 25 take us through neighborhoods and the residents/spectators seem to be more awake than during the early miles. The coffee cups have become mimosa flutes, there is more music, and a lot more cheering. My smile caused a police officer to say “you’re the happiest person I’ve seen so far!” Part of the reason I maintain a permasmile, especially in the later miles, is that it really does help offset the pain and fatigue I may be feeling. In fact, studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin. Whether or not this is a placebo effect for me, it helps tremendously. I also find that my face muscles stay relaxed, the rest of my body follows suit.
I passed about 4 ponytails between miles 23-26, so I knew that I would finish in the top 10 for women. I was prepared for the torture that is the last mile of this course. In 2014, at some point between miles 25 and 26 and after entering the OC Fairgrounds, I saw a huge blow-up arch and heard music. I thought “this is the finish!” so I made a beeline for it. As I approached the area, I noticed that it was not the finish, but a sponsor activation spot. I didn’t have a lot of energy leftover after that and dragged my tired body all the way around to the other side of the fairgrounds for a dismal finish line “sprint.” This year, I was mentally prepared for that last mile and saved my energy until I turned the last corner. I saw the clock ticking toward 3:12, so I picked up the pace even more to bring it in at 3:11:47. I ended up placing 7th overall female, 3rd in my age division, and 68th overall. I am very happy with that time and it is my 2015 personal record.
After 20 minutes of loitering in the finish chute area, I spotted Leti. She achieved a 16 minute personal record, but I wasn’t surprised. We left the finish line area, checked our official results, waited for my age division award and then drove to a nearby Starbucks for our caffeine fix. We quickly decided that coffee wasn’t going to cut it, so we went to Polly’s Pies for a hearty meal. I was craving something salty, so I had some kettle-cooked chips alongside a delicious burger. I think I achieved a personal record in plate-clearing time – I was hungry! The remainder of my day was spent cleaning, reading and napping.