November 8, 2010

2010 Santa Barbara Int. Marathon Race Recap

We had a beautiful 70-mile drive up to Santa Barbara the night before the race, watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean as we drove along the coast, eventually finding our way to the Expo at Santa Barbara City College which was less than a mile from our hotel. We walked into the Life Fitness Center at Santa Barbara City College where the Expo was being held, (just behind La Playa Stadium where the Finish line would await us the next day) picked up our race packets, goodie bags and shirts, and left to check into the hotel. After having spent over 90 minutes in Friday night "get the heck out of LA" weekend getaway traffic, we were tired and hungry. It was past 6 o'clock and I just wanted to get some food in me so I could try to get some sleep.

There was going to be limited parking on race day, and with both races starting at 6:30am in different locations, I'd be dropping off the hubby at the Half start and driving back to SBCC where I could catch a bus to the Marathon start. There was no parking at the Marathon start what-so-ever and we were strongly encouraged to be parked at ready to board the buses by 4am.  There was no easy or efficient way for us to meet the parking and drop-off criteria without having a non-runner with us. Suggestion for the race organizers: Please consider offering buses to both Starting lines from the same parking area, especially when all runners are finishing at the same location!  There were buses from the Finish back to the high school where the Half Marathoners parked before walking to their Start, but it made no sense for John to drop me off at 4am, then drive out to the Half marathon parking location (a 15 minute drive), run a half marathon, find a bus to catch back to the car, drive all the way back to the hotel (who knows what that would have been like with all the street closures and detours), shower, pack up the car, check out of the hotel (no late check-out), get back to the Finish, park, and then wait for me in the Stadium. Our plan was for me to drop John off early at the Half Marathon drop-off spot, drive myself to the Finish to park the car, and then catch the bus to the Marathon start (a high school in nearby Goleta). John could then have time to take the car back to hotel, shower, change, check-out and be back in time to see me cross the Finish line.

The Expo seemed pretty good. To be honest, we zipped through so fast I can't tell you how many vendors there were, but it wasn't sparse. I didn't need new gear at that point, I needed food and a bed!  We checked into the hotel. Our room was right on Cabrillo Street in Santa Barbara (runs parallel to the ocean), with a balcony overlooking the harbor. It was a gorgeous night so we decided to walk the 1/2 mile or so down to the local El Torito for some carbs and protein.  Without going into a lot of detail, let's just say this was a terrible decision. This huge restaurant with empty tables everywhere was severely understaffed. We waited "about 5 minutes" for a table for more like 45 minutes. We didn't have a lot of options as most restaurants were busy and/or not serving the kind of food you want to be eating the night before a big race. Neither one of us had eaten very much between lunch and dinner (not to mention it was approaching 8pm!!) so by the time we were finally seated, we ordered our food at the first sight of a waiter. The food was horrendous, the service was terrible - and the worst part about all it is the staff was working their tails off. They were literally running from one end of the restaurant to the other, trying to keep up with orders, but it was obvious they were in a no-win situation. I tried to be sympathetic, but my stress level was feeding off of their stress level, it was too late to be eating like this, and I just wanted to leave.  After we waited for "just a minute" for our check for over 10 minutes, we were finally free to go. Ugh. At least we had a nice walk back to our room.

By now, it's 9pm. We laid out all our gear and fuel so we would be ready to go on time. I decided to use a different pacing strategy given all the hills and had purchased a recommended Maclin pacing bracelet (terrain-adjusted pacing) for an "even effort" which meant I had to keep a close eye on my pace as it would be changing just about every mile. In general, this meant slower paces for moderate to steep grades, faster paces for level and downhill sections. I would still be using my 4:1 run/walk intervals. By 10:30pm, John is knocked out but I'm still struggling to fall asleep. I think I finally dozed off around 11, but was waking up on and off over the next several hours. I think the most solid sleep I got was between 2:15am and 3am. Good thing I had a decent night's sleep on Thursday.

 After a pre-race snack of coffee, water and a banana with peanut butter, we're off to the half marathon start at 3:50am. The freeway exit is easy to find, but the street we have to drive on is very dark with few street lights and no signs for the event. We finally see some cones in the middle of the road as we approach the high school. I'm trying to figure out where the drop-off location is, but there is a very young man trying to force us into the Parking area. We tell him we're just here for a drop-off. I pulled ahead slightly, but there are still no signs for where runner drop-off is. I am already starting to freak out about getting back to the Marathon parking/Finish area on time. The only safe place we can see to drop off John is behind a CHP car pulled off to the side of the road. John later told me he could not find ANY staff or volunteer member who could point him in the direction of the Start line (which we knew was about a 1-mile walk from the parking/drop off spot), so he found the course and started walking alone in the darkest hours of the dawn in the direction he thought he should be going. It would be another 45 minutes before he saw another runner. Acceptable? No!

I made it back to the city college to park and catch the bus at 4:30. There is a lot of activity here, but the parking locations were not well marked. A whole group of cars (me included) went to one of the many parking areas around the college but were all turned back and directed to another parking location down the street. Can I just park my freaking car please? I finally get myself parked and just follow other runners as they are walking out the parking structure because I'm not 100% sure where the buses are going to pick us up. Luckily, there is a line for the bus forming just outside the parking structure. I'm in line just after 4:30, but after 10 minutes of waiting, only 1 bus load of runners had been picked up. I'm not worried about missing the last bus because as I turn back and look behind me, there are at least 200 people behind me and more runners are pouring out of the parking areas. I was pretty sure there were somewhere between 1,000 - 1,500 marathon participants for this event. So much for "the last bus will load at 4:50am".

Start line.  6:50am
After loading a bus at 4:45am, we are dropped off down the street from the high school in pitch black conditions. There are a few volunteers directing us up the road to the Start. As I walk onto the school grounds and into the parking lot, I see the Start line, a huge spotlight and maybe 150 other runners milling around, but other than that, the place looks pretty dead. With more than 75 minutes to go until start time I decided to seek out a bathroom early. I found a volunteer who told me the bathrooms were in the gym just down the stairs from where we were standing. Ah-ha! Here were the other runners! The gym was open and lots of folks were chatting/staying warm in the building itself. High energy music was coming through the speaker system and the bright lights were definitely helping keep my spirits up. Around 6:10, I decided to have a Gu. It had been more than 2.5 hours now since my first pre-race snack and I knew I needed something else before the gun.  I head outside where the temps have dropped by at least 5-7 degrees F since we arrived. It's cold but I can still feel the humidity. At 6:15, an announcement is made that the start is going to be delayed until 6:45. This brings some moderate groaning from the crowd. Not wanting to go back and sit in the gym again, I walked around campus a little to try to keep warm but I'm getting too cold and head back into the gym. At 6:40, another announcement comes through that we are now delayed until 7am. More groaning. Finally, around 6:50, most of us are at the Start and ready to go. It's still pretty dark and there are no street lights on this back road we're starting out on.

At the 7am gun, there is just barely enough light to see the road and I'm instantly glad the start had been delayed for 30 minutes. I took this snapshot from Google maps because it was too dark to get a pic from my phone. This is in the first mile of the course, as we're exiting the high school parking lot. Yay for starting off downhill, booo for no street lights! The first right we will take is at the far right of bottom of the screen shot which begins the Goleta loop.

One of my first observations was that mile-markers seemed to be off.  My Garmin read 0.91 miles at Mile Marker 1 and stayed ahead of subsequent mile markers for about the next 13 or 14 miles. The Goleta loop was nice. It was very quiet. The first 3 miles were pretty much all downhill with a couple of short, mild hills. The pace felt fast to me for a long run, but I was staying loose and letting gravity do as much of the work as possible, keeping the faith with the Maclin pacing strategy.  After a short hill at mile 4, we descend towards Mile Marker 5 where a 4-mile ascent awaits our arrival. The hills are not feeling as difficult as I thought they would, and I'm surprised at how easily I'm able to maintain my pace. In fact, I was staying ahead by about 15 sec/mile, hitting each mile 1.5-2 minutes ahead of schedule and my heart rate was steady at about 140, even between miles 4 and 9. Maybe I'd be able to hit my "4:45 stretch goal" after all!

After 9 miles in the Goleta loop, we're back at the high school where we started. Instead of making that same right turn as we had at 1.5 miles, we continue East towards the Half Marathon start near Tucker's Grove Park. Miles 10-12 are relatively flat, but I am acutely aware of my already-aching calves. I was carrying 16 oz of water with me, along with 6 shot blocks and one packet of Gu. I had a couple of shot blocks around mile 8 and at least 4-6 oz of Gu Electrolyte Brew that was being passed out at some of the water stations by mile 12, but I was getting worried I wasn't taking in enough calories and the biggest ascents were still to come. I grabbed a couple of Gu's from a volunteer near the halfway point. I immediately have one with some water and put one away for use before the bear climb in mile 23. After a small ascent at mile 14 which coincided with more burning in my calves than expected, I decided to down a small packet of salt I was carrying with me. The last thing I want is to cramp in the last few miles and not be able to make it to the Finish. It's the first time I've consumed salt during a race - ever.  The descents are not feeling as forgiving as I wanted them to. My legs are tired, my feet are already hurting - it's too early to feel this way! My right and left brain play tug-o-war in my head and I'm starting to go down an emotional path that is going to do me more harm than good. Enough!!   I press on.

It was just before mile 16 that I started have some GI discomfort. Although I used Gu almost exclusively for the first couple of years of my long distance training career, I have not used it in a while...usually consuming sports beans and Accelerade (neither of which I brought with me this time). I'm feeling like I need to find a porta-potty, but we're on a paved trail now and there isn't much around. I see and pass 1 lone porta-potty (I'll be fine. Get over it. You don't want to miss your goal time, do you?).  Miles 17 and 18 pass.  My guts are cramping (I have a fleeting thought of quitting!!!!) but I manage to convince myself I can push through to the end. Another lone porta-potty appears on my left but there are 2 people in line. Another excuse I can use not to stop. The pain has affected my pace and I'm falling behind my pacing schedule. Everything feels too fast. The trail empties out into a neighborhood. Residents are out in full force to show their support. I'm beaming and thanking people for coming out. One couple is playing guitar in their front yard for us! Awesome! As quickly as these good vibrations come in, they're gone, and I can't ignore this GI pain anymore.  I step off the course and find a place in a wooded area off of the road (not in the neighborhood!) to take care of business. This little adventure has cost me quite a bit of time, not just in the mile that I had to step off the course, but for 3 or 4 miles beforehand too.

I'm feeling much better as I jump back onto the course in the middle of an ascent just before mile 20. Not a mile later, the GI cramping is back and now I'm thinking 'oh great, I've opened the floodgates'. The pain comes and goes in waves, but I'm not taking any chances this time. I spot a porta-potty just as we start a descent after mile 21 and there's no one in line! Yippee!!  Now I can concentrate on that big hill coming up! You can see here how the cramping affected my pace (in blue) after mile 15, and then the stops at about 19.5 and 21.5 miles.

As nice as it is to be going downhill, my right ankle is killing me and my quads are burning. I take some deep breaths, shake out my hands and arms, and try to stay loose. I'm not trusting the mileage on my Garmin or the mile markers anymore because I have no idea which one is closer to being correct at the this point. All I know is that big hill is coming, and then it's all downhill to the Finish. As I approach the base of The Hill in mile 23, a fantastic and fun 10 or 12 person band is blaring music for us and they look like they're having a blast. Dancing, smiling, waving when they can. I flash everyone the biggest smile I can muster up and begin the toughest climb of the day. This is another Google maps screen shot. We came down Las Positas (from the left of the perspective of the street level shot) and made a left turn into the ascent. This grade went on for a little more than half a mile. Amazingly, I managed to finish this mile in 13:06.

The last 2 miles of this course was everything and nothing like I expected all at the same time. Going into the race, I couldn't wait for this final descent, because in my mind, it would be nothing in terms of physical work relative to what I had already run. When we got to the top of this hill, volunteers, staff and supporters were out in full force - "It's all downhill from here", "Keep going, keep going", "The hard part is over". It was amazing. I can't think of a better way to start this last segment.  I'd like to say this is where I got my 2nd wind, but I'm pretty sure it was at least the 3rd or 4th! The view was incredible. We were running straight towards the ocean and the water was glistening in the sun. Oh ya, the sun is out now! Woo hoo!!! In the final mile and a half, we're running parallel with the ocean. There is a little headwind picking up, but it is of no consequence now. More spectators and volunteers are lined up along Shoreline Dr. I know I'm close, but I'm not sure exactly how close because I'm still not trusting the mile markers or my Garmin. I am SO tired. My right ankle is really barking at me from all those right turns and banked streets and the pain is radiating up the outside of my lower leg. I want to walk (and cry), but I just really want to freaking finish already and I know I am going to be cutting the 5-hour mark very close if I don't keep going.

This shot is right around Mile 25 and just up beyond the curve in the road you see there was an AWESOME woman who saw me slow to walk and was telling me how close I was to the finish. Almost pleading with me to keep running. I mean, I looked up, and I could literally see the Finish line banner peering over the top of La Playa Stadium at SBCC where I knew the hubby would be waiting for me. I thanked her profusely (as best I could). It was just the extra push I needed.

I ran mile 26 in 10:28! Thank you descents! What I didn't know was that we would be running the last part of the course on the city college track itself. I can't remember the last time I was on a real track. I definitely have never been a runner actually running or racing on a track!

This is what we saw as we approached the stadium.The stadium is the space in front of and to the right of the palm tree base.

We came into the stadium at one end of the track (see bottom portion of pic) and ran in a counterclockwise direction. The Finish was halfway down the straightaway in front of the bleachers.  As soon as I entered the stadium, there are people lined up and cheering for us, but I am barely paying attention to anything but the cumulative time on my Garmin. Something on those sidelines caught my eye because just as I'm about to hit the track itself, I see John standing against the course ropes. I instantly let out a little gasp because I am so surprised and relieved to see him. I almost start crying but this race is not over for me yet! I grabbed his hand as a I ran by and gave it a good squeeze. The funniest thought went through my head as my feet hit the track. "Now I can call myself a runner". What?!? LOL!  I'm immediately distracted when the announcer's voice comes booming over the loudspeaker.  "IF YOU CAN HEAR MY VOICE, YOU CAN FINISH THIS MARATHON IN UNDER 5 HOURS BUT YOU HAVE TO PICK IT UP". I thought I already was picking it up, but apparently I had a little more to give. With every ounce of strength and power I had left, I dug in and pushed as hard and as fast as I possibly could. I hear the announcement again as I'm rounding the track and I'm shocked that I am managing to run even faster. I throw my arms up in the air and tear through the finish line doing 10 miles per hour! I almost ran right past the volunteers trying to put a medal on me!!!

Here are the official stats:

Chip Time – 4:57:46
Half Marathon – 2:21:17
20 Mile – 3:40:23 (+1:19:06)
Finish – 4:57:46 (+1:17:22)
Pace 11:22 min/mile
SexPl – 328/445
Overall Place – 796/998
My primary goal for this race was breaking 5 hours since I ran my first marathon (albeit slightly injured) on 1/10/10 in 5:36 at Disneyworld (very flat course). That's what my "I'll be happy with" goal was.  My 'real' goal was 4:50. I do think I was capable of achieving that goal but I allowed several factors to negatively impact my performance here, almost all of which was under my complete control. Lessons learned is coming next and I've got 4 major points to hit on.

For those interested in the Half Marathon, my husband loved it (even with the not-so-ideal beginning to his race). The Half Marathon course is essentially the 2nd half of the Marathon course, so yes, you do still get to tackle that big hill at the end.

Lastly, a huge thank you to all the staff, volunteers and spectators who truly made this a great race. The outpouring of support was incredible and being able to finish on the track was an unexpected treat!


Gaby Hermida said...

I'm so proud of you Vera!!!!! You did it!!!! :D

Vera said...

Thank you Gaby! ((Hugs))!! :-D

G. E. Anderson --- said...

That's so awesome, Vera! Thanks for the great race report!

What an ordeal you guys had to go through just to get to your start lines! I can understand delays and logistics issues at local 5Ks, but international marathons should have it together better.

I'm happy you were about to break your 5-hour goal! I look forward to seeing your "lessons learned".

Vera said...

Thanks Greg! I do hope the race organizers will come up with a more ideal parking/drop-off plan next year. The Half Marathon start was delayed until 6:50.... and we still don't know why!

Amanda - RunToTheFinish said...

I'm not sure most organizers realize just how many people come to races in groups, but are running different distances.

I gotta say I don't know how you got to the start so early either, that would mentally freak me out. But sooooo cool that right at the finish you heard those words that helped you pick it up!


Steve Miller said...

This was a great read Vera!!!