Decided to go for it. PR, Baby!
I woke up at 4:35 am to head up to Santa Rosa by 5:00 am. We arrived there about an hour later shortly before the sun came up. It was a little chilly which I was grateful for, but I knew it was going to warm up as the day progressed. There was a nice layer of clouds and I was hoping it would stick around until after the race was over.
I told Boyfriend I was shooting for a 9:55 pace (sub 4:20) but that if I felt good I might try to PR (previous PR pace was a 9:42). It is a pretty slim margin between a 9:55 and a 9:42. My goal with this race was never to PR but since the times between a sub-10:00 pace and a PR pace are so close it was always in the back of my mind it might be possible.
I lined up somewhere between the "9 minute mile" and "10 minute mile" pace signs. They delayed the start a little due to long portapotty lines, but eventually we were off. I had no problems hitting my pace right away even though we were scrunched on one half of a street.
The course is of the two-loop variety with 99% of it along a bike path/canal walkway. There was a concurrent half marathon. So everyone ran the loop once together and the marathoners continued on for a second go-around.
Garmin's trace of our day
mile 1: 9:40, 9:36
mile 2: 9:46, 9:45
mile 3: 9:40, 9:45
mile 4: 9:42, 9:39
mile 5: 9:43, 9:45
mile 6: 9:45, 9:44
The first few miles were on a concrete part of the path which then turned into an asphalt bike path. This later morphed into a what is described as "hardpack trail." When we first hit the trail I was totally caught off guard. I knew that part of the course was previously unpaved but from my understanding off the website it had been paved over recently (apparently only one section had been paved but there were still many miles of unpaved trail). It was by no means a technical trail but it did have loose rocks and gravel which made it crucial to pay attention to footing.
Heading out for the first loop early on in the race.
At around mile 6 I looked at my average pace. It was 9:42.
First, I thought about how I was doing well for my goal of a sub-4:20 finish. I even had a bit of a fudge factor built in just in case I bonked later. Second, I also thought about how I was clicking out a 9:42 without any hard effort. It was kind of strange how I was exactly at my current PR pace. I considered reining the effort back to a 9:55 -- no need to tire myself out too early. Third, I realized if I continued as I was until later on in the race it would be harder to beat my PR. I didn't want to decide at mile 20 to go for it, have my average pace be 9:43, and have nothing left to bring it safely down below 9:42 (since Garmin generally measures courses longer than 26.2, the pace you see on the watch is generally a second or so slower than what your actual official pace ends up being). I wasn't going to be in the range and come so close and not be able to PR.
I knew I had to commit at that moment to PR'ing.
So I decided at mile 6 I was going to go for a PR this day. My goal changed from 9:55 to keeping my pace a few seconds below 9:42.
At this point, let's take a look at the elevation map. The above is for one loop. So after reaching the end of the chart, you go back to the beginning and do it again. It is a little misleading because the down didn't feel so big and the ups weren't steep, either. But there was definitely a downhill and uphill slow and gradual trend.
It did cross my mind that perhaps my pace was looking good at this point because I was cruising down the slightly downhill portion of the course. Maybe I'd hit the uphill part and my pace would slip up into the high 9:50's?
mile 7: 9:31, 9:35
mile 8: 9:34, 9:38
mile 9: 10:13, 9:38 Stopped to refill my 20 oz handheld water bottle
mile 10: 9:36, 9:41
mile 11: 9:31, 9:38
So the above mile splits were from the first time I hit the uphill trending portion of the course. As you can see, I got faster. At the time I attributed this to the fact that shortly after the turnaround we hit the freshly paved section of trail. I've taken physics. I know that when you're running on a loose surface some of the force that could be used for your forward movement is now displaced to moving that surface backwards instead. As the running got easier on the pavement I cursed the trail section and was not looking forward to doing that part again. Little did I know that we were no where near done with trail for the first loop. There was another very long section that was definitely uphill. My least favorite part of the course for sure. I made a mental note to toughen up for it on the second loop.
mile 12: 9:19, 9:24
mile 13: 9:13, 9:28
The last two miles of the first loop I was feeling pretty good. I started running faster and did try to slow myself down a little. The lead marathoners were already starting to head back out for their second loop and I yelled encouragement for the runners as they passed by. There were practically no spectators outside the start/finish area except for volunteers so I thought they'd enjoy the sentiment. Most of them didn't even acknowledge me! I made myself feel better by thinking of how fast they were going and how they were probably in some zone (Sidenote: Miles later I encountered what I assume was the winner of the marathon heading home. I cheered for him and HE acknowledged me!). I thought that if I was on PR pace and had the extra oxygen to cheer for other people, I wasn't going fast enough.
Right around here I realized that my cloud cover had vanished. BLUE SKIES AND SUNSHINE. I had a horrible sinking feeling. I had been looking up at the cloud cover every now and then and it had seemed to be holding. Then Poof! It was gone!
I saw Boyfriend around the halfway point. I motioned that I did not want my ipod (since it was so lonely I thought maybe I'd like it the second half) but gestured for him to catch up to me. I told him I was on track to set a PR (I was averaging a 9:36 pace at this point) but the sun was out now and I didn't know if I could keep it up. He gave me some encouragement and I trudged onward.
mile 14: 9:27, 9:18
mile 15: 9:41, 9:29
mile 16: 9:33, 9:34
mile 17: 9:28, 9:33
Thankfully the next few miles of wonderfully paved path was both slightly downhill and had a lot of tree cover. I was feeling decent, though the thought of all the unpaved areas to come was nagging at me and I knew the tree coverage was going to be scarce later on. I cheered myself up by thinking about running the Disneyland Half next week -- I could stop and take photos with all of the characters next week! I could walk whenever I wanted!
mile 18: 10:38, 9:40 Stopped again to refill the 20 oz bottle. The aid station was located right after a sharp bend so this one was not as efficient as the first since I didn't have the top undone and the volunteers took a second to register what I wanted to do.
mile 19: 9:48, 9:53
mile 20: 9:56, 9:22
The wheels briefly fell off shortly after mile 18. This was definitely the lowest I felt during the race. The above splits are pretty bad (that 9:22 really should be grouped with the next set as that was when I re-hit the freshly paved section after the unpaved area). In my mind I only remember feeling particularly crappy for maybe a mile. But I guess maybe it was 1.5 miles. I just felt sort of tired and that I was fighting to keep the pace for the first time. The sun was now out in full force and I was heating up.
I debated strongly in my head whether or not to stop and walk while I ate my second gel. It would just be for a tenth of a mile and maybe it would re-energize me? I even started decelerating a few times to walk before changing my mind and picking back up the pace as best I could. As I ate the gel I told myself I could slow a little bit but I had to keep running. I started to feel a little down and foolish for going after a PR today. Why did I pick a marathon with sub-par footing in sure-to-be-sizzling August?
There weren't a lot of people out for the marathon. A women I had passed at one point had re-passed me when I stopped to fill my water bottle. She was up ahead of me at this point and I could tell she was slowly pulling away. Not that I particularly wanted to beat her, but I told myself that if I stopped to walk she'd keep on running and I'd never see her again. She'd forever be a place marker of where I could have been.
I don't even know where I read it or who said it, but I recently read a quote. The gist of it was that the first step to doing something was believing you can do it. If you don't think you can do it, you won't. I thought of Marlene and how she wrote the word, "Believe" on her hand when she went for a marathon PR attempt. "Believe." It became my mantra for the day.
mile 21: 9:20, 9:23
mile 22: 9:41, 9:36
mile 23: 9:32, 9:29
I turned off of the trail portion and onto the newly paved section (where I had picked up the pace on the first loop). I knew this was where I was going to find out if I could keep up the effort. Sure it was slightly uphill, but I had my footing back. I don't know what it was about this section either of the times I ran it, but my pace completely bounced back and I felt great! Sometimes I feel that a slight incline is actually easier for me to run on, and this must have been the perfect grade.
I also started to pass people. All kinds of people. Everyone. And no one was passing me. Granted there weren't a whole lot of people out there, but I was steadily catching up to and passing everyone I encountered. In between people, when no one was around, I would mutter "Believe... Believe..." out loud under my breath.
The footing went back to trail and eventually we hit the dreaded 2+ mile uphill trail section I had dog-eared during the first loop as "going to be very difficult the second time around." I knew I was losing time on the footing. I knew it was uphill. There were no nice shady trees on this section. It was also the harder miles of 21-24. Even though I knew what to expect, this section went on for what seemed like forever. Just when I thought we might be near the end of it, the trail would give you a peek further up and you'd realize you still had a long way to go.
Whenever I got disheartened I kept repeating the word of the day: Believe. I'd say it out loud and would push a little harder.
From mile 15 or so onward I kept expecting the warm sunshine to suddenly and unexpectedly point it's finger at me and zap me into oblivion. I was actually scared that any second the temperature and sun would squelch my day. It was always in the back of my mind.
As the trail kept going I kept telling myself to just get to mile 24. When you're at mile 24 you've only got one more mile until 25. And once you're at 25 you're practically home free.
mile 24: 9:31, 9:27
Finally the trail portion ended and I was back on firm footing. The race had a bunch of over and underpasses to get you from side to side of the canal. As I turned over the last one I faintly caught about 2 seconds of the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." Could it have been?
When I trained for the San Francisco Marathon in 2009 I ran to this song a lot. The morning of the race I listened to it on repeat as I got ready. I PR'd. The morning of CIM as I got dressed and psyched myself up for the race I listened to this song on repeat on my ipod. During CIM at mile 23 someone was playing it for the runners. I PR'd.
Had it been a passing car that was playing the song? I had a feeling that I was moving relative to the sound of the music versus the music moving in a car.
As I came back up on the other side two girls sitting by the aid station had a stereo that was playing my PR song. I couldn't believe it. What are the odds of that song playing at the moment I passed at such a pivotal distance in the race? I thanked them as I ran by the aid station. I was at mile 24 and for the first time I didn't just believe I could do it, I knew that I had a PR today. I got a little emotional for a few seconds. Then I told myself to buckle down and bring this thing home. It's never over until you cross the line.
mile 25: 9:22, 9:27
The last couple of miles of a marathon there is some sort of magnetic draw to the finish. You can't help but pick up the pace a little. As my pace automatically quickened I started to feel the effects of the temperature. I was getting a little nauseated. I told myself to hold it easy until the 25th mile marker.
mile 26: 9:18, 9:18
Somewhere after mile 25 I heard some heavy breathing to the left of me. That women who I had leap frogged with a bit (the one whose presence inspired me to not take a walking break at mile 18ish) was passing me back for the second time of the day. No one had passed me since mile 18 of the race. But with the slight nausea I didn't have anything to try to hold her off or pass her back (I am not really that competitive as far as people passing me anyway). She said some encouraging words to me as she slowly drew in front of me. In retrospect, the fact that I actually spoke back to her tells me I wasn't that poorly off at the time.
Mile 25++ heading out for the last little out-and-back before the finish area.
There is a little out and back to cross a lovely trestle bridge before you come back around to the finish line. I was really happy for the double loop aspect of the course at this point. I knew exactly where the finish line was. But man, that little section seemed to go on forever. I really wanted to walk. It was a major battle of mind and body between running faster to the finish, running slow enough to not puke, and wanting to just stop altogether. I thought about how I had a PR, but if I stopped now all of that hard work and payoff would vanish in a few minutes.
I turned the corner after that out and back and gave it everything I had left to sprint to the finish.
mile 26.2: 8:20
Finishing time: 4:11:34
Average pace: 9:36 min/miles
The finish area
I tottered over to a volunteer and as I bowed my head for my medal I did briefly think that it was sort of dangerous and I might hurl on her shoes. But I didn't feel nearly as bad as I thought I would.
A few moments under this was amazing.
RoadBunner Salt Lick
This was kind of long so I'll get some post-race thoughts up later. I have a lot of them.