I’d had such a great experience running Mountains 2 Beach in 2013 and 2014 that I knew I wanted to return for round three. In fact, my fastest half marathon and full marathon times were run on this course. When I completed the half marathon in 2013, it was still a small race lacking any significant fanfare. After the 2014 event, word spread that the course included a nice downhill segment which naturally aids runners in achieving faster times. It became regarded as one of the best courses in Southern California on which to earn a Boston Marathon qualifying (“BQ”) time and the 2015 event sold out in a short amount of time. Having predicted this, I registered very early.
I was excited to learn that a good sized group of people from my running club and within my social circle would be in Ventura for the event. Quite a few of my friends were aiming for PRs and BQs as well. A few weeks before the race, Frank secured a full marathon bib, so we planned to run it together at an easy effort. He picked my bib and shirt up beforehand, so I didn’t attend the expo, but heard that it wasn’t rave worthy. On race day, we departed Long Beach at 3:00am for the 1.5 hour drive. After parking in one of the many available lots in Ventura, about 1 mile away from the finish line, we boarded an event-provided bus to the start line. The morning presented no hiccups and we were at the start line by 5:15am with time to socialize, visit the porta potties, prepare ourselves for the race, and do a second round in the porta potty lines. The parking, bus-loading near the finish line, and the start line areas are all easily accessible and everything seemed organized.
The full marathon starts in downtown Ojai and takes runners out for less than a mile before making a u-turn and heading back through the start line. It is interesting to leave the start line, and then see it again less than 15 minutes later, but it does allow for photographers and spectators to snap some great still-feeling-fresh pictures.
Right before the race started, everyone seemed confused as to where the “waves” started and ended. Frank and I wanted to start in wave 1 and frantically weaved our way through the masses in an attempt to get there, but there weren’t any markers or delineators. As it turns out, everyone started at 6:00am when there was supposed to be a 2 minute break between the starts. The finish times had to be adjusted later to account for this, but we weren’t affected. This was the only issue that I perceived from a race management point of view.
After completing the short out and back segment and cheering for those who were planning to lay the hammer down on the course, runners take the Ojai Valley Bike Path for 2 miles before making a right turn to complete a ~4 mile loop around the city of Mira Monte, Oak Grove High School, and Nordhoff High School. We passed three schools within the first 9 miles! This section features a few inclines, but nothing severe. It reminded me of running in 2014 – I ran this section thinking “I thought this was a mostly downhill course!” Again, there aren’t any quad-crushing hills, but I think that new M2B runners who expect an easy downhill course are slightly surprised by this part. I told Frank that once we were back on the bike path, the miles would go by easily and we would see the ocean in no time.
We passed the 9th mile marker right before making a right back onto the path and settled into our groove. I reminded myself to take water at each aid station as they are spaced further apart than at other road marathon races. Going back to 2014 again, I remembered feeling too thirsty in the later miles because the distance between each water station was longer than I’d expected. After the 11th mile water station, I decided to try Fluid. I think it was grape flavored and thankfully, it didn’t upset my stomach at all. I plan to experiment with the drink during training and perhaps use it during ultramarathon races. I’d forgotten my package of GU Chomps in the car, but didn’t feel the need for extra calories at any point. The temperature hovered around 60-63F and it wasn’t yet sunny. Frank and I were running at an easy-moderate effort and enjoying the course. Around mile 14 or 15, we ran through an area with a stench that made my stomach turn. It smelled like a thousand babies had pooped at the same time nearby. It was awful and I could not wait to get out of the area!
The half marathon starts at mile 18 of the full marathon course, does a loop heading back toward the full marathon start, then joins the full marathon course again at mile 16 and continues on the same course until the finish. Though we did pass the slower half marathon runners and walkers, they were very courteous and remained on the right side of the road. It never felt too congested on the course.
At mile 17, we caught up to a friend who was gunning for a BQ. I wasn’t sure if we were going to try to encourage him to the finish, or if we were going to continue on our own pace, but we ended up passing him and continuing. We planned to take a short potty break at mile 20 and while I was standing outside waiting for Frank, the 3:13 pacer went by. We resumed our running and I felt great after the respite, but Frank seemed to be slowing. It had become warmer as we approached Ventura and the sun was coming out. We were still rolling smoothly, but we were both feeling the last 20 miles. The bike path ends between mile 21 and 22 and we begin to meander through Ventura. The last few miles are made easier by more crowd support in the area. In fact, this section is probably the most dense in terms of spectators. We see the ocean for the first time right after mile 22, turn left to head toward the finish line in Surfers Point Park, but then pass right by it! Half marathon finishers and spectators are happily chatting in the finish line area while we are pushing through the final 3 miles, but I definitely got a boost from the cheering and encouragement. Miles 23 through 25 are on East Harbor Boulevard, a long stretch of non-exciting road. Not to mention, it is parallel to the beach path which takes us back toward the finish line. Running AWAY from the finish line always tests my mental fortitude.
The last 6 miles are where I believe my higher-mileage running serves me well. After mile 21, I was pulling away, silently willing Frank to follow. Though I was nowhere near “fresh,” my body wasn’t screaming at me to slow down yet. I certainly wasn’t going to sprint in for the last 10K, but I had enough gas left in the tank to at least catch back up to the 3:13 pacer. Between miles 21 and 24, I ended up putting some distance between myself and Frank. I assumed he was right behind me, but when I turned around at mile 24, his green shirt wasn’t in sight.
Runners finally make a tight u-turn back onto the beach path and at that point, we have one mile to go. I pulled over for about a minute to wait for Frank – I wasn’t going to finish this without him, as promised. Despite his slowing, he was still in good spirits. In jest, I warned him that if he didn’t run faster, I wouldn’t give him a ride home. We crossed the finish line a few seconds apart in 3:16 and change and were both elated to have completed another marathon together. The feeling of crossing a finish line will never get old. I ended up placing 2nd in my age division, which came as a happy surprise to me.
The finish line area was different from 2014 and the post food and fluid seemed to be much further away, and also not marked very well. We finally located it and enjoyed some fresh watermelon, one of my favorite post-race foods. Wendy, Gil, Kelly, Jimmy, Jeff, Al, Ki and I congregated in the finish area and talked about the race. Gil was the 3:23 pacer and helped Wendy achieve a PR and BQ, with Kelly slightly finishing a few seconds ahead of them. Jimmy had also BQ’d and run his last race with one of his kidneys, as he was going to donate it to a friend in a few weeks. We were all glowing, mostly due to excessive amounts of sweat, but also partially due to happiness. That period of time after a race when everyone is happily exhausted and together in the beer garden or festival area is the best. I wish I could bottle that moment up and re-experience the feeling when I’m having a bad day. Luckily, we decided to extend the party time and move it to a local brewery called Anacapa Brewing Company.
The highlight of this race was that my friend and coaching client not only achieved a 12 minute PR, but she also BQ’d. What makes this accomplishment even more amazing is that she volunteered to take on pacing duties for the 3:38 group after the pacer became ill around mile 10. Lori has been chasing her Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3 hours and 40 minutes for three years. She began to following my training plan and train more seriously for the attempt a few months ago, reached for it during two other marathons, and finally reached far enough physically and emotionally this weekend. She joined our group at the brewery after a dip in the ocean and we caught up over burgers, pizza and celebratory champagne. The happiness that reaching this goal brought her was evident and her euphoria was contagious. Sometimes I get caught up in my own pace, fitness, training and goals and take all of it for granted. I grumble about how “slow” I feel like I’m running, when there are people running 5x harder than me and covering the miles a little slower. Runners are juggling much more than I am to achieve their running goals: families, intense jobs, school, physical hardships, and other elements of life. I am so proud of Lori, and have so much admiration for those who sweat despite struggle.
After a stop at Starbucks, Frank and I began our long-ish drive back to Long Beach. We were both giddy with post-run highs and content with the morning’s events. It was a great start to a double race-day Memorial Weekend…