Sunday, October 17, 2010

Long Beach Marathon, my personal adventure

Well, I finally did it. I ran and finished my first marathon. ☺ It was a bit of an adventure, as they can be… but I’m glad I went through the challenges of training to have this amazing experience.

After finishing my spring half with a new PR, I wasn’t sure what the next goal would be. I’m not a fast runner and am not sure I ever would be, plus I wanted a new type of challenge. After some consideration and a bit of trepidation, I decided that perhaps I should attempt a fall marathon.

Up until now, I had been mostly a half-er. After all, marathons required long runs during the week for training, and the time investments (for us slow types) can be significant. But after considering the amount of training that I put into improving my half marathon time, I realized that with a bit more time added to my existing schedule, I probably was ready to pull off a marathon distance.

After selecting the time frame (fall this year), I needed to find a location. I spent a lot of time reading reviews about marathons and reviewing the experiences of my DailyMile and Twitter running friends. I realized that I didn’t want to do a hilly local marathon, nor did I want to wait until December (and possible frigid weather) to do the California International Marathon. I also considered Denver, but altitude was a problem there, as I trained at sea level. So I opted for the famously flat and fun Long Beach Marathon on October 17.

My summer training regimen was full of long tempos and intervals, and was not your typical novice level approach. It made me feel strong and ready to take it on.

Nevertheless, I was nervous this week as the DAY approached. This was uncharted territory for me, which created both excitement and fear. ☺ I watched the weather closely, as California had an unusual heat wave this October. Fortunately in the day or two prior to the big event, it cooled down until it was perfect weather… 60s with cloud cover, with a predicted high in the low 70s – yay!

We flew down to Long Beach on a short JetBlue flight on Saturday morning. After our arrival, I ventured into the Expo to pick up my number etc. As a local event, most of the vendors were local businesses, charities and races, so there wasn’t a ton of stuff to tempt me. We also walked over to the race staging area, so I could figure out the easiest way to walk there from our hotel.

I also had a chance to meet one of my Twitter buddies @ridgeley in person, which was super fun. And, that evening, I had dinner with several local runners who had all run Long Beach before and had some nice tips for what to expect.

The more I talked to folks planning to participate, I realized that the majority of race entrants were actually doing the half marathon. However, the way the waves were set up, both half marathon runners and marathon runners shared the same waves. This made me somewhat nervous because I knew it would be difficult not to follow the half runners who would likely start out at a faster pace than I would like to do.

On race morning, I strategically edged myself toward the back of my wave as we lined up and settled off to the side, to let the majority of half racers speed by (and speed by they did). The start of the course weaved around a lot with some nice views of the water and the Queen Mary ship. It was fun, and the energy was high.

However there were bad signs: Right from the start, even though my pace wasn’t excessively fast, my HR seemed very high. My rate of perceived of exertion (RPE) seemed to be OK, but I tried to pull back on the pace, to see if the HR would lower a bit. However, as was often the case in my training, once it had spiked, it seemed to stay up there.

Miles 6 through 10 of the Long Beach were situated on a brick and concrete pathway following the beach. It was LOVELY. We had a bit of sea mist blowing on us throughout that section, and it was just simply fun to enjoy the view. At around mile 10 ½, the half marathon runners split off to head back toward the finish line. I admit, I was jealous of them. However, the course traffic lightened up significantly, so that made navigating the course a LOT easier.

At mile 11 ½, I met my husband Dave, per our plan, so I could get a bottle of water mixed with some Hammer nutrition. I tried this approach during my training runs, and knew that the unsweetened protein/carb/electrolyte mix really seemed to give me the boost I needed without too much sugar. I was so glad we were able to find each other easily, even it meant he wore a bright orange Lewis Hamilton victory shirt (he is a fanboy of this F1 driver, and I am not). ;)

At this point in the course, we started doing more out and backs in a variety of residential areas - many parks with various water elements. The out and backs were hard for me mentally, and I was definitely starting to get tired. However, there were always pockets of spectators who were very encouraging and would call out to each of us. I loved it when they read my name off my bib – there’s nothing like having someone cheer for you and call out your name.

By mile 17, which is situated on CSU’s Long Beach Campus, the miles in the high HR zone were taking their toll. I was able to plow up the most challenging incline there, but then my pace seemed to fall apart. I started taking longer walking breaks and was definitely feeling the strain. Shortly after mile 18, I had a bit of a scare when running in an area with lots of cheering students, as I got really dizzy and completely zoned out for about 50 feet or so.

This little scare made me realize that I could injure myself if I didn’t get the effort in hand. And, I realized that my pace was not going to get me the secret time goal that I mentally aimed for… So I purposefully decided that this was going to be an event about having fun and not trying to keep up with my speedy running buddies. So I started walking. A lot.

I wasn’t alone in my walking though (thank goodness!). Many of the runners who had been my companions along the way decided to do the same thing. I continued to greet the spectators and acknowledge the ones who cheered us on. And I focused on keeping the speediest walk I could do, with short bursts of running every 10 minutes or so. I called Dave to let him know my revised ending time. Then, I focused on having fun.

And it was! I took advantage of all the water stations and fuel opportunities. I said thank you to the volunteers who were manning the stations and the police who were keeping traffic at bay through the intersections. I greeted the spectators who had set up fruit and water stations, and occasionally enjoyed their fare. It drove me crazy to see the miles in this section go by so slowly, but I realized that my overall pace wasn’t TOO bad. And then, when we finally got to the “last turn” before the finish, I picked it up into a slow run and focused on good form and enjoying the cheering crowds. I heard the announcer call my name as I neared the finish, and it felt so good. When I crossed the line, I lifted up my hands and exulted in the feeling instead of stopping the Garmin. ☺

When I walked though the chute to get my medal, I was overwhelmed with emotion and started crying. While the race hadn’t gone as planned, it was still an amazing experience. I’m so glad I did it.

Thanks to many of you who were my cheerleaders through this training season. Thanks to my husband, who had to patiently endure my obsessions along the way. And thanks to coaches Jeff and Diane, whose training regimen prepared me to be stronger than I’ve ever been before. There was a lot of time sacrificed for this endeavor, but I’m grateful and glad to have experienced it all.

Official time: 5:31:56
Garmin distance: 26.41 miles, average pace @12:34