Another weekend, another marathon. While I am aware that running three marathons in the span of 21 days isn’t “normal,” nothing has felt forced and I’m still enjoying the races and my weekly training runs. I’ve been asked what my running is like during the days between races, and it isn’t very different from weeks without weekend races. I am still going to a track workout on Tuesday evenings, and doing a longer tempo on another day. The rest of my runs are easy, with some medium-hard efforts thrown in when I’m feeling especially energetic. I’m still running entirely on effort. Two days after the Big Sur Marathon, I hit the track for a pyramid workout and was a bit nervous for how my legs would feel. It ended up being one of the best track workouts I’ve ever run. My stride and effort felt smooth and controlled and my energy levels were high. I was very surprised, but elated. What did this mean for the next 26.2?
Getting to the start line of the OC Marathon proved to be more stressful than I’d anticipated. I planned to carpool with Leti and her friend Sergio, and we decided to meet at and leave from our office at 4:00am. Their start time wasn’t until 6:15am, but the full marathon started at 5:30am. They were running late and I was already on a tight timeline, so I felt nervous that I would be rushing up to the start line right at 5:30am. We left the office at ~4:15am and made it to the OC Fairgrounds at about 4:45am. The OC Marathon is a point-to-point course – starting at Fashion Island and ending at the fairgrounds.
Last year, we found a secret parking area which made entering, parking, and leaving 10x easier than when going through the main gate. We parked there again and walked over to the buses. I felt confident that I would make it to the start line with plenty of time to spare, until we were about 2 miles away. Every time I heard the terrible grinding gear sound coming from our poor yellow school bus, the feeling of worry that I would be late to the start grew. The Back Bay was to our right and I was simultaneously trying to calculate how far away we were from the start line while furiously praying that the bus would survive the trip. Naturally, my body decided that it was porta potty time. I was literally and figuratively on the struggle bus. I dedicate my race to that yellow school bus, which persevered and fought hard.
I sighed with relief as we de-bussed at 5:05am. I had plenty of time to visit the porta potty, make sure I had everything that I needed, drop my bag off at gear check, and locate the entrance to my corral. I saw a few familiar faces and hung out while announcers Rudy and Fitz cracked jokes and pumped us up. I saw the 3:05 and 3:10 pacer, no 3:15, 3:20, 3:25 and so on. I started somewhere around the 3:20 pacer and spent the first mile playing bumper shoulders with runners while trying not to trip over speed bumps. Silence fell upon us as we ran toward Corona Del Mar. It seemed like the weather would be on our side and I felt optimistic as we watched the sky turn from pink to light grey. It was overcast and cool, perfect.
Miles 1-5 seemed to go by quickly. I feared that I’d gone out too quickly, but felt my legs finally settle into the rhythm before mile 4. I came upon Alberto right around mile 5 and we talked about starting a B2B2OC Challenge while trying to maintain an even effort through the gently rolling hills. Cheering spectators replaced the quietness of the CDM neighborhoods right after mile 6 when we jumped back onto PCH for a mile. A few tight turns, a tunnel, and an uphill section later, we were in the Back Bay for miles 7-11. My stomach had been feeling off since the start and seemed to be getting worse. I spent miles 10-12 scanning the course for a porta potty and nearly yelped with excitement when I finally found one at the base of one of the larger hills on the course (mile 12). I spent a solid 1 minute in the stink box and then spent the climb up to mile 12 trying to regain my rhythm and catch my breath. At 13.1, I assessed how I was feeling: legs felt fine, breathing was easy, stomach was calm again, and energy levels felt normal. I had no idea where I was in terms of time or pace, but I estimated a 3:13-3:15 finish time. I was taking water in at about every 5K and had eaten 2 Clif Shot Bloks at this point.
Miles 13-16 took us past John Wayne Airport and were fairly uneventful. There was a steep hill at about mile 14 which I ran semi-hard in order to “warm up” for the last 10K. I saw Alberto again during an oddly short out-and-back section. It feels like this piece was added on to ensure that the course was 26.2 miles, but requires a very tight u-turn which never feels good during a race. Entering the Segerstrom Performing Arts Section at mile 16, I felt a boost of energy from all of the spectators, but reminded myself to continue cruising. I had plenty of energy as well as miles to crash and burn left. I was excited to get past my tough miles (17-19) and was very surprised to come upon the 3:10 pacer right after mile 17. I don’t like passing pacers/people only to be caught again later, but I went by him and entered sub 3:10 land, a place I hadn’t been since 2014.
Recognizing that each of the next 9 miles held the potential for me to fall apart, I focused on running each one at a time. Oddly enough, I felt stronger with each passing mile marker. I encouraged fellow runners who were slowing down, or stopped and clutching angry hamstrings. I wished I could’ve sprinkled some of my energy on them like fairy dust as I ran by. I knew that there was a long, sustained climb somewhere around mile 20 and wondered if that would be where the fatigue would make itself known. Dave snapped a picture of me at the top of the mile 20 hill, making a left turn onto the Santa Ana River Trail.
Miles 20-22 are on the river trail and I was still waiting for the tiredness to hit. This is where I started to feel it in 2014 and 2015, but it was really taking its time this year. I set my sights on a brunette ponytail in the distance and came through my favorite water station, an alien-themed one after mile 21. I passed the ponytail after mile 22, and then we ran up a short, steep hill into a Costa Mesa neighborhood. That hill didn’t feel great and I started to think about the finish line. I wasn’t struggling, but it didn’t feel as easy as before. I began passing more runners and spotted a blonde ponytail up ahead. Well aware that she was running strongly enough to re-pass me during the next few miles, I set my cruise control on what felt like sub-7 minute miles and decided to make the move.
I spent miles 22-25 saying “good morning” to a majority of the spectators on course. It served as a nice distraction from the fatigue which was finally beginning to settle in. I started the long straightaway toward the fairgrounds and began to hear the sounds of a finish line. The first year that I ran the full marathon (2014), I saw and heard a stage with loud music right as we entered the fairgrounds and thought that it was the finish. I sprinted in only to discover it wasn’t. The actual finish line was on the opposite end of a giant parking lot, of which we had to run the perimeter (.5ish miles). I always remember how annoyed I was that year. I saw a male runner wearing orange up ahead and said “don’t let me pass you!” as I started to pass. We had two right turns and less than half a mile to go! I felt him speed up behind me, which prompted me to speed up, and then we passed the mile 26 marker. While passing through the last .2 miles of cheering spectators, I squinted to see the finish line clock. I saw a 3:0… something. My eyes almost fell out of my head when I saw that the something was a 5. I knew I’d sped up after passing the 3:10 pacer, but not by that much. My official finish time was 3:05:41 (1:36/1:29). I checked later, and it was 4 seconds short of a personal record.
I talked to the runner in orange for a minute or two (he qualified for the Boston Marathon by a large margin!) and then made my way out of the finish line. I was in disbelief about my finish time and how good I felt for the entire race. After a year and a half of health issues, I never thought I’d touch my 2014 race times again. My PR in May of 2014 was on a slightly downhill course, and I’d just run the same time on a more difficult one. I went into this race with the same mindset as Big Sur, to just run what felt good and enjoy all 26.2 of the miles. I knew that I would likely run faster without the headwind and hills of Big Sur, but not a full 9 minutes faster. I’m still shocked, but very excited.
I met up with a few friends and enjoyed the post-race beer and race recapping. The OC Marathon has one of the best finish line festivals that I’ve ever experienced – they had an awesome band this year and lots of food trucks. It feels really lively and fun, but not over-packed. After a few hours in the festival, Leti, Sergio, Thomas and I had lunch at Baja Tacos. The combination of 2 beers and a belly full of Mexican food left me fighting to stay awake during the drive home. A shower and nap followed, as is my normal post-local-race routine. I ran 7 very easy miles on Monday morning and felt tired, but good and pain-free.