“Bakersfield?! That sounds like it would be …interesting” I responded to Chris when he told me that he would be pacing the full marathon. Combing through the website, I came across the course map and thought it actually looked interesting, and in a good way.
I clicked around, curiosity mounting. As an industry professional, I’m critical of website items such as ease of accessing pertinent information like course maps and registration, spelling and grammar, communication of dates and times, and general layout. Stumbling upon the awards page, I noted that the prize purse for the first place woman was $1000. I don’t usually win marathons, but this was an inaugural race and I figured maybe I would luck out and earn an easy win. I also checked out the event’s Facebook page and learned that it had been canceled before. I began to get the sense that race organizers have been trying to get it going for the last 2 years, but the city wasn’t easy to work with. While I was nervous that it would be again be canceled, I went ahead and registered.
Training was and has been going well: long runs, harder effort runs, my beloved hill workouts, a 32 mile run/race in the bank, no major injuries, and a general sense of smoothness to my running. The only component that I have yet to add back in is speed/track work; I’ve been extremely apprehensive to add this back into my routine. Though it likely has only been a single factor in past injuries, I feel like it is the most significant contributor. A lack of speed work + not having run a road marathon since June = no idea what I would run on race day. My A goal was sub-3:20, with my “secret” goal being to break tape and take $1000 home.
Chris and I arrived at the packet pickup about 15 minutes before closing on Saturday and hastily grabbed our race items. In addition to a bib and race shirt, our “goodie” bags included some The Wonderful Company samples, coupons for meals and desserts, race advertisements, and a very helpful event guide. In fact, I referred to the event guide multiple times on Saturday and Sunday – this is something that every event should provide!
I found Hodel’s Country Dining on Yelp! and we took full advantage of their inexpensive, but delicious, buffet. Full of food and tired, I fell asleep early and woke up feeling rested on Sunday morning. Chris and I are both naturally (very) early morning risers, so we were both ready to go much earlier than our planned departure time. We stopped by 7-11 for coffee and leisurely made our way to the race. Traveling to and parking at smaller races is generally much easier than the big affairs. I visited the porta-potty, pinned my bib on, chatted with other runners, and dawdled until locking up the car and dropping my bag off at gear check. I arrived in the start area at about 6:45am and chatted with Lori and Vanessa for a few minutes. At 7:00am, it was announced that the start would be delayed. While slightly irritating, there isn’t one much can do about it, so we continued standing around and chatting. I recognized a girl I’d run a few miles with at the OC Marathon and we caught up.
At about 7:15am, it was announced that the race would be further delayed. It wasn’t terribly cold (high 50s, low 60s?), but I felt like my body was stiffening up from not moving. At 7:30am, a runner loudly chided the race announcer to start the damn thing. At 7:45am, I began to consider just dropping down to the half marathon because I didn’t want to run the latter miles in the heat, and also because I was feeling lazy. An hour after the race was supposed to start, and we were still standing around CSU Bakersfield. The race announcer then let us know that we were 5 minutes out from starting and that a car accident on the course had been the source of delay.
At 8:05am, the 500 of us tackling 26.2 miles finally left the campus. We twisted and turned our way toward downtown Bakersfield and I fell into my rhythm about 10 feet behind the 3:08 pacer. The pace didn’t feel like a jog, but it felt smooth and sustainable. Boredom motivated me to catch up to the 3:08 pacer, who was running solo, and initiate conversation. He told me that the course markers were a bit off, so he was trying to maintain 7:00 minute/mile to make sure he finished in close to 3:08. While that’s faster than I wanted to run that early in the race, I felt good and decided to continue with him. Around mile 8, a woman breezed past me and I realized that I was in the 4th place OAF position.
A few yards before the mile 10 marker, we discovered that a group of runners had run off course and added a mile onto their marathon! That’s never happened to me, but I’d be annoyed for sure. I slowly pulled away from the 3:08 pacer after mile 10 and was feeling curious about how the 4 mile climb between miles 12 and 16 would feel. We started going up at about 12.5 miles and my legs welcomed the elevation change. The incline was more than I anticipated, but I passed ~20 runners between miles 12.5 and 16 and was never working overly hard to maintain my pace. There was a short downhill right before mile 15 and I remember thinking “what the heck? It’s over already?” Of course, we turned a corner and continued going up. I learned how far behind the first 2 females I was during an awkward circle around a fountain on the Bakersfield College campus (mile 16).
Miles 15-19 felt twisty and turn-y, but we were rewarded with some nice views on fittingly named Panorama Drive. I regained my rhythm and took my Clif gel, waiting for the downhill section Doug had told me about. Running alongside the bluff reminded me of the Back Bay bluff section of the OC Marathon. I was feeling great, moving well, and smiling. I felt the best between miles 15 and 20, but kept my zeal contained. I am always cognizant of the fact that things can go south quickly during the marathon. A short, but very steep downhill segment took us to the bike path.
I remember reaching the mile 19 marker and thinking that maybe I could catch up to the two women ahead of me. I was still feeling strong and even picked it up slightly after mile 20 (wishing I race Garmin-equipped right about now). The riverbed was boring, exposed, and windy, but I don’t feel like the weather was a factor in my deterioration. In fact, aside from a vague feeling of nauseation, I think I just lost steam due to a general lack of endurance. I saw a lead cyclist pacing the first 2 women turn to look back at me a few times at the 22 mile marker and I wondered if he said anything about how close I was. Unfortunately, I switched into “just get to the finish line” mode after mile 22 and slowed down. My smile turned into a half-grimace and my energy went toward simply moving forward. Thankfully, the path was becoming busier with half marathon walkers and I directed my attention toward grabbing snippets of their conversations. I passed a marathoner right after mile 24 and we traded words of encouragement. When I arrived at the 25 mile flag, I thought “next stop, finish line!” Boy, was I ready for it.
The riverbed curved and I finally caught sight of the finish line. I could hear the announcer, see the crowds as well as the mile 26 and mile 13 flags. The feeling of nauseation that had set in earlier suddenly became much worse – I felt 90% sure that I would vomit either right before the finish line or upon stopping. “Should I turn and throw up before the crowds become thicker, or try to make it past the finish line and then hurl?” I asked myself right before the mile 26 flag. I continued on, took deep breaths and wondered what it would be like to throw up in front of all of these people. I crossed the line in 3:04:42, received my medal, grabbed a bottle of water and kept walking. I am very happy to report that I did not throw up! I think that Clif gels are too thick for me and that I need to stick with Honey Stinger gels, which didn’t seem to cause me issues during WIEM.
The male runner I’d passed around mile 24 finished about 40 seconds after me and we congratulated eachother. It was his first marathon and his longer training run had been only 12 miles! I was thoroughly impressed with his epic achievement. Lori and Vanessa found me and we all chatted about the race. Lori and I picked up our finisher’s sweaters and then started to walk over to the festival area. While the finish line is in an odd spot, right in the middle of the riverbed, the festival area was great. On the way there, I talked with the girl who had passed me at mile 8 and learned that not only had she placed 2nd OAF, it was also her very first marathon! She’d played soccer in college, but was now experimenting with long distance running. She ran a 3:01 – I see a bright distance running future for her. Apparently, she had run step-for-step with the woman who won from miles 9 until .10 from the finish line and the other woman out-sprinted her for the win.
Since Chris was pacing the 3:53 group, I had time to change and relax for a few minutes. I always enjoy turning my phone on after a race and receiving a barrage of texts from friends asking how it went! The rest of the morning was uneventful and naturally, we hit a lot of traffic in LA.
In reflecting on the race, I’m disappointed and satisfied at the same time. I’m disappointed mainly in how I fell apart quickly within the last 4 miles, which I realize now was to be expected. Consistent speed work helps me speed up or at least maintain pace in the latter miles of a long race, but I have yet to add that element back into my training. I’m frustrated that I wasn’t able to fight a bit harder at the end, especially since I boast about being a fast finisher. At the same time, I’m satisfied with the way that I felt during miles 12-20, especially for the 4 mile uphill segment. Always grateful that I am physically able to even complete marathon races, I am also happy that I finished in a very respectable time. In fact, it was my second fastest marathon! With the lack of real speed work and loss of training time after San Diego Rock n Roll, I’m surprised that I even went sub-3:05. “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” -Frank A. Clark
I hope to continue growing, training, strengthening, experimenting, failing, succeeding, learning, and running freely.