February 10, 2011

The 17.1 Mile 2011 Surf City Half Marathon

I've had my eye on Surf City for a couple of years now. I train often at the beach and the thought of racing along the Pacific Coast Highway in a different city (Huntington Beach) was highly appealing. As there was no packet pickup on race day, we made the 1+ hour drive down the dreaded 405 freeway to hit the Expo.  Hotels in the area were mandating 2 or 3 night minimum stays over the weekend so we opted for driving in both to the Expo and the race the next morning.

A few words on the Expo - small, hot and WAY too many people. Vendors were jammed on top of each other and it was frustrating to try to move around. Our race packets consisted of this plus our race bib with a D-chip:

Re-useable bag and long-sleeved "Green Layer" tech shirt
I don't know if I was disappointed it wasn't full of ads, coupons and trial-size samples of various goodies, breath freshener and pain remedies, or if I thought it was environmentally responsible of them not to since we tend to throw most of this stuff in the trash anyway (well, at least I do).

My brother-in-law was running the Full marathon so we met him and my sis at the Expo. I think only 25% of the 20,000 runners were running the Full so their packet pickup area was wide open. It was the only place inside the tent where we found some breathing room. Oh, and this:

Shirt is from Punk Rock Racing
Relatively unimpressed with the Expo (and the long line of people trying to get in), we left pretty quickly and headed up to Santa Monica as my B.I.L. wanted to check out the new Nike store on the 3rd Street Promenade. What can I say? It's big and over-priced. With a Nike Outlet store only 30 min from my house, I don't think I would buy anything from the retail store.  They did have some cool displays and quotes on the walls. This pic of an old pair of Pre's shoes was pretty awesome. Imagine running the 3-mile in these!! GO PRE!

For those who don't know, Pre's coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman,
made his own shoes for his team. A brand we all recognize now as Nike.
After a decent night's sleep, we were up at 4am Sunday morning. BIL's wave started at 6:45am (I think) so he and sis left our place by 4:30. Since the hubby and I were running the Half, our wave start time wasn't until 7:45am. Our plan was to leave by 5:00 or 5:30am presumably permitting adequate time to drive down and find parking. We were advised via email and the website to note where the various parking lots were when we picked up our bibs at the Expo. They all seemed relatively close to the Start so I didn't think too much about it.

This is the map we were given:

Note the blurb "Map not to scale"
Um, ya.... "Map not to scale". I underestimated how NOT-to-scale it was tremendously. Parking was horrendous when we arrived (Yes, we were warned by the race organizers. I chose to not fully investigate the situation personally beforehand). Cars were pouring into the various lots you see in the map above, but rather than cut off the entrance to a full lot, attendants and security were letting cars pull in to whatever lot they wanted but then had to sit in a line of cars weaving in and out of other full parking lots for at least 20-25 minutes until we got to an open lot. It was extremely stressful. With less than 25 minutes until our wave start, we finally found a spot in the lot that was the furthest away from the Start (see small green 'P' near Brookhurst at the bottom of the map). We thought we were maybe a mile from the Start at that point. Shuttles were running folks from the lots to the starting area, but the lines were long and hubs and I were slightly in panic mode by this point. Never-the-less, we tried to make the best of it by choosing to shuffle-jog to the Start as a warm up as SO many others were doing.

As we're approaching the corrals, I can hear the announcer getting ready to call up the Half Marathon waves. I'm picking up my pace because I don't want to miss my wave! I leave hubs in his corral and weave through thousands of other runners to get up to my wave which is being called up RIGHT NOW! I slipped into the corral and "Bang", we're off. I barely had a chance to take a breath before we crossed the mat. The course itself was nice. The first 3 miles are on PCH, then a right turn into some neighborhoods (thank you HB residents!!!) for the next 2.5 miles. You come out of the neighborhoods at the same spot you entered, hang a right to continue up PCH to the turnaround point at about 8.3 miles (or something like that). The final miles are a straight shot back down PCH to the Finish (very close to where we started).  The weather was overcast and cool - but a bit muggy. Nearly perfect racing conditions.

Link to all Garmin data
To my surprise, there were some relatively challenging hills with a long uphill slope to the finish. Especially entering the neighborhoods. Again, this was totally my oversight - I run near PCH at least a couple of times a month at home and it is flat, flat, flat.  Did I mention it's flat? My goal was to come in at 1:55 which would shave almost 3 minutes off my PR time of 1:57:46. The plan was to hold an 8:45 pace until mile 8, step it up to an 8:35 min/mile through mile 11, and then try to take it up to 8:30 or 8:25 to the Finish Line. Yes, it is ambitious and would have me finishing in less than 1:55, but I love having a stretch goal, just in case! ;-)

I was able to calm myself down enough to get a good rhythm going for the first 6 or 7 miles. The hills threw me for a loop and it took a little extra mental strength to push through some of the "well you're not going to PR now Vera -  nice planning!". I wanted to just let myself go on the downhill segments but I was careful not to get too out of control because I was barely halfway through the course. At mile 7, my legs are starting to feel tired - ALREADY! I'm not really sure what's going on at this point but I'm trying to relax with reminders that my overall goal right now is working towards a 4:30 finish at Grandma's Marathon this coming June. My training schedule is heavier than ever - I'd run 4 miles with our Galloway group on Saturday (I'd never run within 2 days of a race before much less the day before!!). A lot of things were different for me coming into this race. So just keep pushing Vera. You can do it! Even maintaining a PR pace would be a major accomplishment at this point. We (as in my body and mind) press on.

My pacing strategy did not go as planned. Of course I went out too fast for the first mile. With all the hurrying up to get to the corrals on time, my adrenaline was pumping! I backed off a little and was able to maintain an 8:50 pace through the neighborhoods where our first hills appeared. Miles 5 and 6 were pretty much all downhill but after my experience with the hills during the Santa Barbara Marathon, I knew it was important to control my pace and not let my legs run rampant and waste fuel I'd need for the home stretch.

By the time I hit the turnaround point, I am seriously getting worried about how tired I am. Quit it Vera - this is a waste of energy. Focus on what you CAN do. Push, push, push. Damn I'm tired. Why do I feel like I'm going uphill on PCH?  Because you are. I barely remember miles 8-11 other than the fact that I was working so much harder than I have felt during a half marathon before - and I have run some hilly courses! I remember thinking at mile 11 that I needed to put my Marathon Hat on (you know the mental one you put on at mile 23 when you feel like you want to cut your feet off?)  because it was the only way I was going to keep myself in the mindset that I was going to get through this. I distinctly remember hitting 11.8 miles - come on Vera, you're almost there. Get out of this "I'm tired" whining and finish strong!! My official time was 1:54:59!! OMG! I did it.

Here's how it played out:

It wasn't until after the race was over when hubs and I were walking back to the car, wet and freezing, that we realized just how freaking far away we had parked. A quick check on the Android showed us as being TWO MILES from the start. (Reminder: Map Not To Scale) Holy cow. No wonder I was feeling so tired so quickly; fighting Marathon demons during a Half Marathon race. I realize we, as runners, have great responsibility in scoping out details for a race, but come on - how about "this parking lot is 2 miles from the start" instead of or in addition to "Map not to scale". I don't know. I PR'd despite a 2 mile 'warm up' - but I am a little jaded by the lack of details.

It's interesting though... had you told me I would exceed my PR goal after running 2 miles to get to the start with no rest before the gun (with or without knowing about the hills), I would have told you and myself that it was just plain crazy. Out of the question. I'm in no shape to do that - and I didn't taper as much as I wanted to. Mind over matter. The only person blocking me from a attaining personal best is me. Who knows what my time could have been had it not been for that 2 mile warm up?  Or maybe I PR'd because I was feeling so unexpectedly tired early on in the race so I pushed harder than ever to overcome those feelings?

I'm not sure if I will run this race again. Maybe the Full if I'm looking for one to run early in the season. We are so spoiled here in So Cal with an abundance of beach running/cycling paths that I think may have contributed to feeling slightly bored by the course. But when I think of all my fellow runners braving sub-freezing temps this time of year, I dedicate this race to you!

On a fun note, I have a new Race Day shirt (for races I run without my Galloway group). Now the world will be reminded my heart belongs to John. And of course www.loveliverun.com is shamelessly promoted on the back. ;-)

Race #1 for 2011 complete. I hope it will be the only 17.1 mile 'Half Marathon' event (2mi to the Start + 13.1mi racing +2 mi walk back to the car) I participate in without advance notice.  It may not have been ideal conditions from several aspects, including  super-intense  post-race GI pain, but a Half Marathon PR is great start. I cannot figure out what is going on with me. I don't get sick during or after long training runs....time to start trying out different fuel sources again I guess. Should I be fueling differently during races because I'm working so much harder? I'll take any advice I can get to avoid be doubled over with severe cramps for several hours.

Wondering about those funny headphones I'm wearing? Thanks to Sony, no more cords!!!! I'm going to do a Product Review on them, but in the meantime, let's just say they're as close to being the best thing to happen to the portable music industry since the introduction of portable music devices in the early 70's.

Hang 10 Peeps!


Greg Strosaker said...

Congrats on the PR, especially in doing so by overcoming some real mental hurdles - this will serve you well come marathon time. And your story is always my biggest fear of such events, I swear I worry more about "bonking" when it comes to parking than when it comes to running.

Johann said...

Well done Vera and congratulations on the PR! Unfortunately I also learned the hard way to really be specific with all the logistical details for any race. With 20000 runners I can imagine some chaos!