Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Santa Rosa Marathon 2013 Race Recap

 The 30th time was the charm!


It finally happened! I broke 4 hours in the marathon.  It took two years to chase this goal and the last year worked harder to attain it. The burning desire started with my training for CIM in 2012 where I devoted 20 weeks to train. Weather thwarted my plans. I didn't do so well with the rain, the wind and the storm.  Bitter about my CIM results, I signed up for the next nearby marathon: Napa.  I worked harder than I ever did and it paid off where I shaved some two minutes of my NYC best. While at the Napa Expo, I ran into the SR Marathon booth where they gave a discount if I signed up right then. I thought, "Why not?"  This was another fast course where I could possibly try again--in case I couldn't break 4 at Napa or Ojai.  This would be my insurance, so to speak.


I was excited about the progress I've made with my Napa training.  So for Ojai I went back to what worked and tweaked my schedule. It paid off once more. Race day came and I shaved two more minutes. However,  I was a little upset because I could have broken four hours if it were not for the time I've squandered at three pit stops. I was disappointed at myself. Honestly, I had no desire to re-live that moment much less motivated to write about it. I wanted a do-over, but I couldn't turn back time. My next opportunity would have to be Santa Rosa. I was so glad I had the foresight to sign up.



The Santa Rosa Marathon was essentially the last chance for entry into Boston 2014. So many runners had this goal in mind, I couldn't help but get swept away in the dream.  I knew it might be doable since I have been seeing results in my training, but deep in my heart I knew that a sub 4 was going to be a little bit more attainable than the BQ.  But still Boston was in the back of my mind.  I had 12 weeks to prepare. On Sunday, all the sacrifices of time spent away from my family, all the sweat and the hours pounding the pavement culminated in one moment. On my weekend long runs with hours spent on the road alone with only my thoughts to entertain me, my mind often drifted to what it would be like to reach my goal of breaking four hours.  I wonder how it would feel to beat that clock.  I visualized myself grinning (or crying-depends on my mood), arms outstretched in victory like those winners we see so often in championship races.  Or sometimes I have visuals of me breaking down in hysterics and kissing the ground in disbelief. None of the above happened on Sunday as I crossed the finish line in Santa Rosa Marathon--far from it.



We had a week of a hot spell in California, some 6 weeks out from the race.  The race director Orhan Sarabi, proactively moved the start time to 6 am instead of 7 am.  He sent out a mass email of the change and a litany of reasons why a 6 am start would be more advantageous to BQ'ing.  I didn't have to be convinced as I like early starts.  I was happy with the time change.  One thing though that they did revised after I had already signed up was the race course. I prepared my mind for the challenge of two loop course for a marathon, when it was announced that a new course was under approval. I was never a fan of double loop courses to begin with, so I was curious to see how this change might work to my advantage. Now I have the cooler start and no loops--this would make breaking 4 or my secret quest to BQ more attainable.



I woke up at 3:06 am, without even giving my alarm the chance to go off. I had 4 hours of sleep, but I was not worried. I slept well two nights ago. I was already up, excited and ready to go. I ate my oatmeal, banana, coffee, and 3/4 of a bagel. I chugged down an 8 oz of PowerAde. In hindsight, I should have drunk 32 ounces like I normally would have.  It was in my subconscious not to drink too much because it gave me reminders of Ojai and how I squandered precious minutes.


We left the house at 4:30 am.  As soon as I stepped out the door, I didn't shiver like I normally do.  I was already comfortable and that was bad news. It was going to be warm and humid, and I hoped that I wouldn't fall apart in that kind of humidity. 



My husband and his Aunt dropped me off at the Juilliard Park, downtown Santa Rosa, the location for both the start and finish. "This is good, I can get off here."  Eric's Aunt said, "We're not just going let you off here. It's dark and there's no one around." She ordered Hubby to drive around the block one more time to see if there would be more runners walking around on the other side. After seeing other runners, they felt better and let me off. I said my goodbyes, hugged them and said "See you at the finish--just before 10!" I emphasized the time confidently. 



I was at the staging area shortly at 5 am.  The organizers were barely getting there.  All the porta potties were still locked.  The start arch was still deflated on the ground. I hopped over it. I don't know why, but I did. I made up a symbolic superstition by hopping over it, like giving it my blessing. It doesn't mean anything. It was 5 am, I was high on carbs, apparently I thought of crazy stuff like this.


It was 60 degrees at 5 am.  Not the 57 that was forecasted the day before. I could feel some pockets of hot air. I try not to think about the weather. It was beyond my control. I had an hour to kill. I used this time to warm up and do some stretching.  I didn't do any slow running which I should have but I just didn't feel like it since it was still dark. I stayed where the runners are. I was in unfamiliar territory and I wanted to be safe with other folks. There were a number of folks who were lucky enough to carry their iPhones with the flashlight app. It proved to be handy inside the dark porta-potties.



Ten minutes before the start, they counted down on the bullhorn, "5 minutes!  2 minutes!" I was just in time when I got out of my "office" and ran to the staging area.  I couldn't find the way to get inside the fenced off area.  Instead of waiting to find an outlet, I saw some guys hopped over the barricade fence.  I figured I would do the same. "Do it, just don't be clumsy," I thought to myself.  That wouldn't be so funny if I fell again just before the race, ala-Ojai. Oh, but we won't talk about my fall in Ojai. 



Once I climbed over the barricade, I found myself in the 3:10 pacing group.  Whoa, wrong spot. I got out of there!  I worked my way to the 4:00 group and shortly decided that I would move up closer to the 3:50 group. I found the group and we were off. 



At 6 am, it was barely getting light. The wind was calm and excitement was in the air. Everyone was hooting and hollering "Woo hoo!" as they ran. I thought, "Here we go!  In four hours or less I would find out what I am made of.



In 2013, the 5th year of the marathon, the course was changed.  In the previous four years it was a two loop course.  Now it is an out and back COURSE which incorporates Downtown Santa Rosa, the Prince Memorial Greenway stretch and two other wineries including Deloach Winery where the Expo was held. We passed through Sonoma county's rural paved roads with sporadic homes, corn fields, horse ranch and milk dairy.  Majestic oak trees covered some parts of the race course. It was a truly scenic change and advertised as a fast BQ course.



I studied the course elevation the night before and I realized that the first 6 miles and the last 6 miles are on the same path.  Going out was downhill and going in would be uphill.  Sometimes the elevation on paper seems scarier than the actual course. So I thought nothing of it. No cause for concern. However, as I ran the first 6 miles, I realized that I could feel the downhill.  It was not as gradual as I had hoped.  My thinking was, if I could feel the decline then I knew for a fact that coming back on the last six miles after the fatigue of the first 20 miles has set in, I would feel this incline. EVERY INCH OF IT.  To maintain any kind of pace would prove to be a challenge.  Was I up for that? I was worried. I did not train on an uphill finish on tired legs, not at all.



I hung around the 3:50 pacer for as long as I was able.  She was a phenomenal woman early 30's.  I was amazed in hearing her story. She had an incredible background where she began running on Jan. 10, 2012 and has lost 50 lbs. She was rocking the pace.  She was smooth and effortless.   I knew I may have to let her go at some point, later on in the race, but I wanted to stay with her for as long as I could.  I was not being pessimistic but only being honest with myself and my ability.  


After the 6th mile, the undulating hills came up.  We were around the vineyards.  The scenery was beautiful.  Lots of trees and cloud cover however, it was around this area was where the humidity started to affect me. I was sweating profusely and the 2.5 mile water station seemed too space out for the humidity. It didn't matter that I had downed an 8 oz of pickle juice the night before. I was losing electrolytes fast as I could feel the caked on salt on my face. I knew I would be in trouble later on and cramps would be my enemy.  I quickly ripped a packet of table salt I picked up from "In 'n Out Burger". I only packed 3 of those. I should have brought more. I was rationing it as if I were in a calamity.



The ups and downs started to also affect my calves.  I started to feel the faint tug every time I pushed the pace. Just then, our pacer yelled out, "Look! There's Tire Girl!" The visual entertained me for a short time and took my mind off my rebelling calves. Tire Girl had a harness around her waist. She was dragging a tire behind her and as she pulled that rubber, dust billowed behind her. "Great, that's just what I need--some dust up my lungs," I thought. Someone asked what pace she was doing.  Another runner yelled "She's trying to beat 4 hours."  Geez, there I was on the verge of my 30th marathon and have yet to break hours while she's carrying that tire behind her. Thoughts flew in my head as I tried to forget my calves.  Thoughts like, what if I sat on her tire? Clearly, she was doing this for a fund-raiser.  She had some signs around her but I wasn't able to read what her purpose was. Was that bad of me for my lack of curiosity or sensitivity?



I was only on the 12th mile when my calves started barking. I didn't pay no mind, so I kept pushing. Just then, I ran into RRCA director George Rehmet.  As I came out of the Wine Barrel Barn, he was shooting a selfie.  I yelled out, George!  Then he took a selfie of the both of us.  It was great seeing someone you know in this sea of marathoners.


That's George on the right taking a self-ie! That's my pacer with the sign!


Excuse Me! Coming Through the Barrel Room...

I had been carrying this 1/4 of a raisin bagel in a Ziplock for all this time and it was starting to bug me.  I figured I would only spend more energy chewing this bread so I chucked it. It was hard enough to get the GU down, I didn't need another complication. With free hands, I ran another two miles right behind the pacer, she was still in my sights but I gave up catching up to her and risking my calves cramping prematurely.  By the 18th mile, I lost the pacer, and I accepted that. While my semi-secret BQ dreams faded, I refocused my energy on just breaking four hours.  I knew I was going to make it because by the three hour mark I had already gone 20.45 miles which meant, I ran an 8:48 pace.  I had about 5.75 miles to go and  I roughly estimated that if I ran anything under 10:25 pace I would still make my goal. I just had to make sure that I go under that. 


Remember the first 10K was downhill and that we had to pass through this same route again going the other direction? What comes down must come up. I prefer the other way around. I had forgotten about this little info as I struggled to maintain pace in the last 10K.  All I could think of was how I was blowing this and slowing way down, without accounting for what I had known earlier. I saw my Garmin ticked away with 9:xx.  I got a little worried, when I saw 10:xx after I stopped at the last aid station. But I got it down back to the 9's.  Then the 25th mile came and I posted a 10:23 pace.  All of a sudden it just got harder, my legs started to go downhill from there. They felt tight as if I were lugging timber.  No matter how much I tried to run faster they just would not cooperate. It did not help when I turned the corner coming close to the finish. My calves, hamstrings and both my legs started to cramp hard (ala-Napa this past March).  I was too close to the finish to stop and stretch the cramps. I had not a single second to waste.  I kept chanting to myself, "Don't stop, keep running." While the clock ticked away just two seemingly short blocks ahead, (normally I could sprint this distance anytime of the day; this day, not so much) I had the thought of Tire Girl running in my head. God must be punishing me.  Not only was I not lugging a tire behind me, I felt as if I were pulling two tires, one on each leg as I hobbled towards the finish.  I have this recurring nightmare of running as fast as I could, but not really getting anywhere--this must be one of those, only I was living in it. 

I reminded myself, pain is temporary. So I pushed and it was the ugliest running form on earth. I saw Hubby and daughter at the sidelines cheering for my sub-four finish.  Hubby was yelling you're going to make it!" All I could give them was my grimaced looked. It's all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I have no idea what my cumulative time was, as I had my watch set at the mile/pace I was in.  I managed to lift my legs and step on that timing mat as if I had just learned to walk. My legs were super stiff and the worst mistake I made was I stopped moving completely.  The moment I stood still, my cramps grabbed so hard I had to be assisted to the medical tent. Yeah, it was embarrassing. I felt so bad I grabbed the volunteer's arm so hard, I must have left a bruised. He was only trying to hand me my medal. Another came to my aid and I was down on the grass with the med trying to unkink my muscles.  I was given a cube of bouillon which I was assured would fix me up quickly.  I also ate a banana and drank water. While I was sitting down, I realized my Garmin was still on. I forgot to stop it when I crossed the finish. Now I was even more annoyed that I don't have my best time accurately recorded!  I just can't win. It must have been shorter than 10 minutes when that miraculous bouillon fixed me right up.  (Good to know for next time.)  I asked the med doctor if it was a good idea to run with the bouillon during a race to alleviate my cramps. He gave me a disapproving "Are you freaking kidding me look." Sorry I asked.


All in all, Santa Rosa was a great experience.  I was so grateful for the medical people who assisted me with my cramps. The course was not my favorite, but it did give me a PR. Ask me again in a couple of days, I would probably have a different opinion. If you pace yourself correctly and not get carried away in the first half as in CIM, then it could potentially be a fast course.

This Bling is huge!

The double spinner medal is beautiful and quite substantial. I really like the fact that the medal had no rings that are attached to the ribbon.  NYC's medal are done like that. Santa Rosa's medals did not disappoint. The other parts of the swag were also great: a bottle of wine from DeLoach Winery, and a nice jacket which I didn't received.  They ran out of the small sizes by the time we arrived at the Expo.  I was assured I would be mailed one.  It does look very cute and I am embarrassed to admit that my mood became soured when I found out they ran out. I mean, I signed up back in March and I don't get one because they let an extra 1500 more entries this year? But that wasn't the case; the vendor shorted them by less than a hundred. The RD assured me that they will be settled.  I hope so. But hey, I am over it. I would still recommend this race, even with no jacket.   


How does it feel to have a "3" next to my name? As in 3:58:04. Hmm…not feeling any different.  I am still me; still trying to achieve what so many of us can/can't.  That elusive BQ, I am not done chasing it. If it takes me 2 minutes at a time, so be it.  I can be patient. 

I want my jacket Santa Rosa!

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