Last week felt stressful. I wasn’t feeling 100%, and my race-eve morning began very early with a run + work. I never feel like I had a chance to sit and relax until I arrived at the Motel 6 at 8:30pm on Saturday evening. Lori and I caught up and talked over a glass of wine and then tried to catch as many Zs as possible before the 2:45am alarm clock. I usually wake up alert and ready on race mornings, regardless of how much sleep was had, but I woke up on Sunday and felt very tired and sluggish. I took a quick shower and then we went to 7-11 for coffee and breakfast. I wasn’t very hungry, so I grabbed a Quest bar and nibbled on it for the rest of the morning. I’d attended a brunch at the Queen Mary on Friday and had my fill of delicious food and champagne, so I felt well-fueled.
The coffee kicked in on the way to Ventura and I finally felt awake. We parked, made our way over to the yellow buses, and began our journey to the start line. The point-to-point course runs from Ojai to Ventura and loses 700 feet in elevation over 26.2 miles. It has become a well known BQ-friendly course in Southern California and sells out very quickly.
I found out a few days before the race that the course had changed, so I didn’t know what to expect this year. In years past, we’d run down to Ventura via a nice bike trail for 16-17 miles, but I heard that it was congested for runners in the 3:30-4:00 range and problematic for other reasons. Though the elevation change was about the same, the spread of downhill and uphills was going to be different in 2016. Whatever the new course would be like, I was excited.
After 3 visits to the porta potty visits and a fun hour of seeing friends and talking about the race, I dropped my gear bag off and weaved through the throngs of people to find Gil, whom would be pacing the 3:13 group. My plan was to start near the group and run by feel. I spotted Alberto and we started together, chatting for the few few miles. It usually takes me 4-5 miles to fully warm up, but the pace felt faster than I’d anticipated. I felt decent and just clipped along while enjoying the scent and sight of the orange groves on both sides of the road. Coming out of a tight u-turn at mile 3ish, I realized why the pace felt quick. We’d been running on a very slight incline for the first section and were now rewarded with the gradual downhill for which this course is known. I passed Gil with the 3:13 group right after the u-turn and settled into the race. For the next 10 or so miles, I chatted with runners here and there, but was mostly running solo. I became nervous when I realized how close I was to the 3:03 pace group and kept reminding myself to relax and not get excited too early. I was about 30 feet behind the group when I heard footsteps quickly approaching from behind. I turned my head to say “good job” to the speedster and saw that it was Rachel, from Whoo’s in El Moro. She looked great and made me feel like I was running 8:00 minute per mile pace! We talked for a minute and then she continued her aggressive pursuit of the 3:03 group.
Around mile 12 or 13, I came up on the rear of the group. I was now running at a faster-than-my-PR pace, but I felt great and smooth. I chimed into a conversation about the San Francisco Marathon, ran with the group for a mile, and then passed. One of the guys followed suit and we fell into conversation with Mark about running and races. Miles 13-20 seemed to go by quickly and I don’t remember much except for a nice uphill at mile 15ish and seeing Rachel again around 17 or 18. I was very thankful that I’d found a friend to run with for these later miles, but urged him to go on if he was feeling good and I was slowing down.
“There she is!” I exclaimed about the mile 20 marker. Always a welcome sight during the marathon, mile 20 also marks the beginning of the last 10K push to the finish line. I felt good, but no longer great. When we came into Ventura city proper, it felt like there were more slight inclines and declines than in the previous miles. We weren’t running up any mountains, but it definitely wasn’t all downhill anymore. In comparing the 2015 and 2016 course profiles, the course was almost entirely downhill and flat for miles 6 until the finish last year. It certainly had changed this year! Mike and I were still talking, but with more silent, focused moments than before. We chatted with another male runner and he asked if we’d passed mile 22 yet. A few seconds later, the mile 22 marker came into view. A few seconds after that, a blonde ponytail caught my eye.
“Do you see that girl up there?” I asked Mike. We were running quickly and strongly at this point, so we passed. I told him that there was no going back now because I hate being passed back. Soon thereafter, I spotted another female in orange and we sailed by her. We made a right turn, ran for a few feet, and then navigated another tight u-turn. The next straightaway looked to be slightly uphill and my legs began to rebel, but I ignored them and focused on the 24 mile marker in the distance. The uphill was followed by a downhill toward the beach path. I was recognizing sections of the old course and knew we were somewhere in the vicinity of the finish line. I started to pick up the pace for the last 2 miles (or at least I feel like I did…) and was elated by how well my tired body responded. Tired legs training, high mileage weeks, and consistent track work was serving me very well.
I knew that we were close to the old finish line by the pier, but unsure as to where the new one was. Per Mike’s encouragement, I picked up the pace even more for the last ~.5 miles, boosted by the curiosity of what my finish time would be. There was an awkward S curve right before the final straight away, but I ran the tangent as tightly as I could and scanned the finish line area for the red LED finish line clock. The one on the right read 2:41, so I knew it was for the half marathon. The clock on the left was partially blocked by part of the finish line scaffolding but I saw a 2:__ __. Incredulous, I approached the blue finish line mat and my breath caught for a second when I saw 2:56. I crossed the line in a state of happy shock, took my medal, and turned around to wait for Mike. He came in shortly after I did and I gave him a massive hug. I owe a lot of that PR to him and his company during the race.
I grabbed my bag at gear check and turned my phone on to a few congratulatory texts from friends who had tracked me. I changed into dry clothing and then waited for friends to finish so that we could celebrate in the beer garden! A beer and a few hours later, Lori and I rushed back to the motel to shower before we had to check out. We met up with Alberto at El Rey Cantina in Ventura and enjoyed margaritas and Mexican fare. Before I knew it, I was heading back on the 101 wearing a permasmile.
This race recap would feel incomplete without reflecting on how it feels to run my first sub-3:00 marathon and earn a new personal record. During an easy run yesterday, I listened to a Ted Talk by Sarah Lewis called Embrace the Near Win. I found her concept of mastery versus success particularly relevant to my approach to running. “Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving,” Lewis proclaims in her Ted Talk. I am very excited about my achievement and feel like it was a breakthrough in my running and racing, but I haven’t arrived yet. This question of “what’s next” is not a result of unhappiness with my results, but a higher level of curiosity. Lewis mentions that when asked what his favorite song out of his repertoire was, Duke Ellington said that it was his next one. I don’t think I will ever “master” running or become an “expert,” but I fully intend to continue learning, trying, failing, running, training, racing, staying curious, and hopefully, improving.”Mastery is not a commitment to a goal but to a constant pursuit.”
I joined the sub-3 club, as I’ve dubbed it, but I don’t believe that I belong there unless I can replicate the results. This doesn’t mean that I plan on toeing every start line with the goal of seeing a 2:xx on the finish line clock, nor does it mean I’m going to start wearing buns and doing my easy runs at 7:00 minutes per mile pace. However, I feel more confident that I kind of know what I’m doing now and am reaching in the correct direction.