Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modesto Marathon

Marathon #40:

I signed up for this race for two reasons.  One, I thought the medal and shirt were really sweet.  Two, I consider Modesto to be the best PR course in driveable distance to SF and wanted to check it out again.  I raced it 4 years ago (and did PR) but I couldn't remember a lot about it and wanted to refresh my memory. I am not in PR shape at the moment but am hoping maybe next year I will be and I may target Modesto as my next PR attempt.

I wedged this into the schedule after Disney and figured it would be sort of a nice long run for Big Sur.  We will see how that works out.  It was a bit too far out from Big Sur to stand in as a last long run but a little too close for me to possibly fit another 20 miler into the schedule.

The one thing I really like about this race is that the host hotel is both the site for the expo and is a couple of blocks away from the start/finish.  Staying at this hotel worked out really well the first time I ran this race so I booked a room there again.  For a Modesto hotel it may not be the cheapest, but in the grand scheme of hotel prices it is a decent price.  I just made it to the expo before it closed and easily picked up all my race stuff.  It is a small race so it has a small expo and you can be in and out really quickly.

I went to collect my free bottle of wine that the race was giving out from a restaurant across the street from the hotel.  I noticed there was a movie theatre across the street from the restaurant so ended up catching a movie that night.  Such a treat after having a kid. I also ended up eating dinner at that restaurant after the movie since they were offering "free pasta with beverage purchase (limit one per table)" to runners.  I don't think they counted on single me coming in and getting a $3.50 orange juice.

I had one thing going on this race which made me 5% nervous.  I decided to run with my Orange Mud hydration pack with a tank top on.  I've run loads of miles in long sleeve/short sleeve shirts but this was the first time I was going to try it with the straps touching bare skin. I put enough body glide on the area to move an elephant down a tube slide but it was one of those "never try anything new on race morning" things that could have been a really bad idea.  I also decided to use a smaller than normal bottle with the Orange Mud pack. I usually run with a tall bottle that is easy to reach but I like to run with smaller bottles at races since there are aid stations along the way.  I bought myself a smaller Kleen Kanteen the day before the race -- I tested to make sure I could still get it in and out even though it was shorter but I didn't know if it would cause issues on a run.

The Orange Mud situation.  Staps on bare skin -- potentially day ruining, but I gambled

This was probably only the third or fourth time I could walk to the race start on race morning.  I was meeting a friend in the lobby and we planned to get going about 15 minutes before the race.  Getting a little more sleep, using your own private bathroom -- luxuries on race morning, people!  The last time I ran this race the weather was marathon awesome:  It was overcast and in the 40s the entire race.  Perfect.  This year was not to be a repeat.  It was in the mid-50s at the start and they were forecasting 70s by the finish.  The start ended up being delayed for almost 20 minutes due to road closures not happening on time.  This was annoying from a temperature perspective but since I had good company it was not a total loss.

This was the first marathon I have done in a while that I was in shape to actually run all the way through.  Goofy was done on tired legs and involved a lot of photo stops.  Big Sur I couldn't run much during training. As such I decided it might be fun to have some very loose goals.  My easy running pace these days is about 9:45-10:00 so I decided it was realistic to do a marathon at that pace.  a 9:45ish pace puts you at a 4:15 finish and a 10:00 pace a 4:20 finish.  I decided to make a sub-4:20 my B-goal and a sub-4:15 my A-goal.

Since my target pace is my easy running pace I just went out easy and natural.  I remembered that the roads in town had been pretty chewed up the last time I ran. They must have repaved in the last four years because I didn't notice this being an issue at all this year.  The first 4 miles or so you are in the town portion of Modesto.  There are lots of turns in this area before you pop over an overpass bridge (they had a sign that said, "Mount Modesto 113'"), the first of two hills on the course.  There were a few people out playing music in these areas which was a nice boost.  It would be awesome if the race would bring music out into the long out-and-back areas of the course.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was actually decent shade on the course through mile 9ish.  It was warm, yes, but it wasn't a factor as early as I expected because of the shade.  I only remembered long open stretches of road on this course and didn't think there would be much shade at all.

The half marathoners peeled of a little before mile 8 and you start the long out and back that is the rest of the race. This is not the most interesting course but even taking it easy I didn't find it boring or uninspiring.  There are lots of agriculture fields, cows, horses, and houses.  At one point we ran by a field of kale and it smelled divine.  Kale.  Who knew?  There are spectators occasionally but this is not the race for you if you are externally motivated when running.  The aid stations were plenty plentiful and the volunteers overall did a great job of calling out if they were holding Gatorade or water.  Only once I grabbed a Gatorade thinking it was water.  Because of the expected heat I did take a cup through every aid station but I didn't dawdle, and got back running as soon as possible.

One small thing I appreciated was that the race advertised that there would be trash cans at every mile marker.  Because of the out and back nature of the race the mile markers came up more than every mile.  This was really helpful since I take a gel at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20 and that timing does not always coincide with an aid station to throw away my wrapper.  When you know a trash can is coming up it makes it a lot easier to hold onto your trash. At lots of races people will toss wrappers at mile markers (assuming correctly that someone from the race will have to come to collect the marker and why not the trash) and it felt like such an easy yet small touch to have a trash can for us.

When I hit mile 10.5 or 11 the leaders started coming back in the opposite direction. I had a lot of fun cheering for them.  As I mentioned there are not a lot of spectators at this race and I figured they could use the boost.  For a short while I was running by two men who were also hearty cheerers for the returning runners and that got me running energized for a while.  The low-3:00s pace groups were coming back and they would yell "That's Boston!" which got some smiles from otherwise pained faces.  The men had way too much energy (one was even jumping over marathon signage that came up to my waist) but somehow I pulled ahead of them after a short while and lost my cheering buddies.

The race feels pancake flat but technically has a very slight downhill trend the first half and a very slight uphill trend the second if you look at elevation charts.  I don't know if it was cheering for the returning runners or that the downhill portion really has an effect but my pace was fastest right before the turnaround going into the 9:20s or 9:30s without my even trying.  It also felt slightly harder on the return after the turnaround but maybe I just used up all my extra gas on the approach.

Elevation per my Garmin.  Really flat. But you can see the slight downhill/uphill trend and the little blips for the overpass.

Everyone loves the turnaround of an out and back and it felt good to be heading home. I was still feeling peppy at this point and even had a thought that maybe I would get through this whole marathon and just feel like it was a normal long run.  Those have of late been ending at 20 miles. Spoiler:  It didn't quite pan out.

My hydration pack wasn't giving me any issues which I was very thankful about.  It was a calculated and probably a poor risk but it was working out.  However I kept thinking to myself, "you don't feel chafing until you feel it..."  The smaller water bottle was a touch harder to reach to remove from the pack but it was worth the trade off for less weight, I think.  Though I suppose I could use my larger bottle and just fill it only a quarter full or so.  Ideas to ponder for the future.

Even though there are long straightaways on this course it is so flat you can't see that far ahead in the distance.  So that aspect of the course did not bother me mentally at all.  I tried to note when it started to actually feel hot and for me it was around mile 17 or 18.  I cursed the 20 minute late start around this time and imagined how nice it would have been to be 2 miles farther down the road.  But really, I expected the heat to be a factor much sooner in the day so I can't complain about this.  There was a light breeze here and there that helped to keep you cool.  I had mentioned in the past that on a windy day this would be a horrible course with the long straightaways but that wasn't an issue this year.

I did start to feel off right around when the heat became noticeable.  One strange thing that happened was that I got a very tight ball in my stomach just below my ribs.  It wasn't a side stitch but felt more like a huge air bubble.  It made me uncomfortable and stopped me from feeling motivated to pick up the pace.  Originally I had wanted to run a little stronger the last 5 miles.  As I got closer to that time and my desire to run any faster was low I cut down on the distance.  Okay, maybe the last 4 miles.  Maybe the last 3 miles.  Maybe just hold this pace until the end.  I was slowing down slightly and knew I had to give it a honest kick if I wanted to come under 4:15.  With my air bubble and the heat I decided it wasn't something I was willing to dig for today.

There was a woman cheering with a spray bottle asking runners if they wanted to be misted.  Sweet coolness for 5 seconds! I need to remember this if I'm ever cheering at a hot race in the future.  I took advantage of all of the aid stations. Since it is small race the aid stations are not that long so you have to be sure to grab everything you need in one go.  I only had to refill the water bottle I was carrying once.  A volunteer saw me (I thought) running up to the table as I unscrewed my bottle and she picked up the pitcher.  I was so glad.  I hate having to try to find the large bottle myself or pouring cup after cup into my bottle to fill it.  This won't take but two seconds!  At the last moment I realized that a runner right in front of me had the same idea so I had to stand there while her (giant) bottle got filled.  Not as efficient as I had hoped.

As we got towards the end I was scanning the horizon for my hotel.  It is the only tall building in the area and I knew the finish line was just a few blocks from the building.  I have to say, mercifully, you can't spot the hotel when you are still 4 miles out.  I can't remember when exactly you could see it, but not so early that it seems so far away in the distance.

The overpass was a welcome hill.  I am to used to running on such flat terrain and it felt good to use some different muscles for a stretch.  Given my state of when-is-this-over-how-did-I-think-it-would-feel-like-a-training-run-at-the-end feelings I decided the last mile I would bump it up and press on the gas a little.  I switched my Garmin over to time vs. distance and realized I was actually a lot closer to running a sub-4:15 than I thought I had been.  With only a mile to go I knew there was no way I would get it done, though. But I still pushed as much as I could the last mile and change.  I actually felt better than I thought I was going to when I stepped on the gas so in hindsight probably could have upped the effort a mile or two sooner.

26.33 miles per Garmin

They had Doritos at the finish which is probably the best post race food ever. They also had a tent which was printing out free finish line photos.  They were currently printing photos from over an hour before my finish time when I stopped by it and I didn't have time to wait around.  They also provide free race photos online to download after the race which is an awesome perk I wish more races would consider offering.

Out of 40 marathons, this was my 8th fastest finish which I was fairly tickled about.  That statistic really just speaks to the easy-running nature of the majority of my marathon career.  But the faster finishes came off of very dedicated marathon training cycles.  It was nice to know I could hit this mark off of only 3-4 runs a week with most of the miles very easy.  I had started doing very short interval work once a week and threw in some fast finish long runs a few times but I never was on a rigid training cycle.

I personally really loved the swag and it was quite a motivating factor in me signing up for Modesto this year:

I am not a comic book/superhero person, but I really loved the theming.

The medal had magnets and a kickstand on the back so you could display it easier.  I have a gazillion race medals and have never encountered this before.  Genius (though mine is in a box under the bed).

They had different sizes available, but the smallest size is still way too big for me. Probably shouldn't have even bothered taking the arm warmers.

I'm glad I fit this into the schedule.  I wouldn't hesitate to consider it for a PR race.  The weather is the biggest gamble, but that is always the case.  Even with the warmer temps this year, the course had more shade than I expected in the early miles and it wasn't as big of an issue as early as I had expected it to be (though on a warm day the latter miles are going to be really dreadful).  It is well organized and very convenient logistically with the host hotel so close to the start line.  I personally prefer races which are smaller like this when I am going for a time goal so I can really concentrate on the running.  There aren't tons of spectators, but the pockets of cheerers were enthusiastic.  The last time I ran it, my husband was out on the course cheering and it was very easy for him to see me at various points along the course.

Note to self:  Take the San Mateo bridge when coming home.  Every year you think the Bay Bridge will be faster and I don't think that has ever worked out.  You spent AN HOUR just driving over the Bay Bridge to get home.  Also, do yourself a favor and take the rolling suitcase.


Rabbits' Guy said...

Looks like a good run! For you!

The description sounds quite a bit like our Skagit Flats Marathon held in early September. Out in the farm lands - good support, few spectators, FLAT!

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