I was so looking forward to writing this race report. I wanted to write that I FINALLY had that marathon that allowed me to achieve what I knew in my heart I was capable of – a sub 3:35 race. But, unfortunately that didn’t happen on Sunday. And I’m bummed. Obviously I know this feeling well, as it’s not the first time, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. This time I KNEW I had it in me. I knew I could do it, yet I didn’t. Why? Well, I’m still figuring that out. In the meantime, let’s get to the race recap. Warning – brevity in race recaps have never been a strength, so grab a drink and settle in (or skip to the end).
Pre-race was pretty uneventful (yet possibly significant as I’ll explain later) as we left the house Saturday morning at 9:30 AM, drove to Poway to drop Siena off with her Nana and Boo, and then drove through traffic to Camarillo, where we visited my friend Samantha and her newborn baby, Henry. AT the last minute we changed the location of our visit from her house to a restaurant because her husband was feeling ill (like he was going to throw up). I probably should have taken this and the fact that we were already 1.5 hours behind schedule to skip the meet-up, but Sam has been my friend for 27 years and I couldn’t NOT meet her second born child. Afterward we made it to the expo, checked into the hotel, had dinner and were in bed by 9 p.m. asleep by 10 p.m. Pre-races nerves were actually pretty light because we spent more of the day commuting instead of waiting around in Ventura.
I slept pretty well and bolted out of bed at 4 a.m. ready to go. I was nervous but not as nervous as I thought I’d be. We brought our own coffee maker and made coffee in the room so no need for stops. Mike and I were out the door by 4:25 a.m. and I was at the start by 4:50 a.m. with absolutely no issues. My friend Katie was already there and let me know that she was sitting inside the warm post-office waiting. I used the restroom quickly and met up with her. Soon after my friend Ashley joined us. Before we knew it, it was time for the final porto-potty stop (we went to the farthest row and the wait was short), bag drop (super easy) and a quick little jog and stretch. I usually eat a Gu 15 minutes before the race but decided to eat a banana 30 minutes before instead this time because I was planning to eat Gu every 30 min during the race (usually 40 min) and I was worried about having too much caffeine.
I planned to go off with wave 2 but we had positioned ourselves behind the 3:32 pacer (not to follow, but just for reference) and they started pulling the ribbon to cut off the waves just ahead of him, putting him (and us) in wave 3. It was a last minute decision but I decided to stay in Wave 3. I knew I’d be starting off slow, as was the plan, so I figured it was better to start a little farther back. Ultimately I think this was a mistake as I should have just started at the back of the last pack.
Once we started, Ashley immediately fell back, which I wasn’t expecting. I was imagining us running the first few miles together, but I knew she had to run her own race. I kept the pace easy and slower than goal pace (which was 8:05, setting me up for a 3:32 or faster marathon, depending on how I felt in the final miles), as planned. I was expecting to come out of the first three miles, which are a steady and progressively more signifiant incline, around 2-3 minutes behind goal pace. I had mentally prepared for people to pass me, but I guess what I didn’t mentally prepare for was for so many pace groups to pass me! The pace groups clearly weren’t employing my same conservative start strategy, and I watched as the 3:32 group raced off, felt the 3:37 group immediately follow and then came the 3:42 group. I may have even been passed by the next group, I can’t remember. I think had I started 2 minute ahead in wave 2, I would have been passed by fewer people and it would have set me up to feel a little stronger.
I was relieved when we reached the turnaround point just before the 3 mile mark, and we started our descent. I knew most of the race was downhill from here! I tried not to overanalyze how I was feeling in those first three miles becuase I knew a) they were uphill b) I was still warming up and c) how I feel in the first miles of any race never dictates how I’ll feel overall. However, I couldn’t help but notice that I didn’t feel fabulous. I didn’t feel bad, but not great. Miles 1-3: 8:33, 8:45, 8:59.
The plan for the corresponding three downhill miles as we headed back to the start was to run a little bit under goal pace but not too much. I should feel like I was “holding back” but running 10-15 sec under 8:05. Well, I didn’t. While it didn’t feel hard by any means, I felt like I was pushing slightly to get to the paces I wanted (which were still a bit slower than I estimated they’d be). Miles 4-6: 8:03, 8:00, 8:05.
I had planned to wait a while to turn my music on but honestly I was bored! No one around me was talking and spectators were few and far between. The scenery (fields, farms, houses, streets, stores) was beautiful but not exactly entertaining. I turned my music on and felt better. I was excited to see Mike soon becuase he told me he’d be at mile 7. I did see him and it was a needed boost. Mile 7 was a slight incline, as I expected so my pace was a little slower, 8;17. Again, this was slightly slower than I had hoped. I took my second Gu around then, continuing with my plan of 1 salt pill (which I held in my fuel belt) and 1 Gu every 30 minutes (which I kept in the pocket of my handheld water bottle). I started to feel better and more optimistic.
Miles 8-9: 8:00, 8:06.
Mile 10 was a nice decline which felt great (7:52) but Mile 11 was a roller and I came in slower than expected again (8:20). Despite all the hill work, I really slow down on them! At some point here we moved onto the bike path and it got quite crowded, despite it being a small race. I tried not to waste energy or add mileage by weaving. At one point I got a big smile on my face when I passed by a house and a rooster crowed loudly. It immediately made me think of Siena and her love of reading her books with animals noises. Thinking of her helped give me more motivation to push through.
However, although I knew I had some really fast miles coming up which was helping with my confidence, but I still did not feel “on top of” the pace. I felt like I was convincing myself to go a little faster, rather than feeling like I was holding back. Small doubts were creeping in but I reminded myself that I trained for this. I KNEW I could achieve it, I just had to focus and get to work.
Mile 12 was right on pace (8:05) and soon I reached the fast miles. My 3rd Gu was kicking in and I felt good, the best I had for the entire race and was growing more and more optimistic. We were back on the narrow bike path and as I was picking up the pace, I came upon the 3:38 pace group who was taking up the ENTIRE sidewalk. I decided to go on the left and politely say “On your right,” but basically everyone ignored me so I had to slow down. After not too long, there was room on the left to veer off the path onto the dirty to pass and I did. I saw Mike sometime after this and waved excitedly. However, soon after I started to have the urge to use the bathroom, and unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to go in my pants, Chrissie Wellington Style. I’ve never had to use the bathroom during a marathon as I always get everything out before the race and it has never been an issue. But, this time I knew I had to go and I wasn’t confident I could hold it for nearly 2 more hours.
During my first marathon, I witnessed a fellow runner shit her pants at mile 20 of the race. The image of her legs covered in poop is forever emblazoned in my brain and I just absolutely CANNOT let that happen to me. So, I made a plan to stop. I knew there was a restroom somewhere around mile 13, and I planned to stop and ideally lose no more than 30 seconds. I knew that the next porto-potty wasn’t for several mile sand that it also was on the half marathon course which meant it could be more crowded. It was now or never. I was feeling good at this point and while I knew it would suck to lose that time, I thought I’d feel better overall if I were to stop.
At Mile 13 there was an aid station and three porto-potties with a sign that said “Next bathroom 4 miles.” I ran over to the toilets and saw there were two women in line. In my frenzied state I asked “are you waiting?” and they said yes (which was pretty obvious – they weren’t just hanging out near a port-o-potty mid race). I made the game time decision to keep running, wondering if I was making a huge mistake. I clicked off mile 13 at a 7:37 average pace (as planned due to the decline) and rolled straight down a steep hill through the halfway point at just around 1:47, exactly as I had expected, but a little worried that my worst (poop) fears were about to be realized (what is a good race recap without a little poop talk!?).
I ran another great mile at a 7:59 pace and when I came upon the next aid station at mile 14.5 or so, there was a solo port-o-potty there (presumably for the volunteers) and without thinking, I bee-lined for it. I’ve never been so happy to see a portable box of urine and feces. I also needed to fill my water bottle, so when I realized my saving grace was currently occupied, I headed back to the table at the aid station to refill my water. Just as I turned the door swung open and I jumped inside, taking note of the time to see how much time I would lose. After I took care of business I decided to go back to the aid station and fill my bottle with one of the giant water jugs. I was shaking quite a bit from the adrenaline and in retrospect I wish I had just kept running as I probably lost another 20-30 seconds here when I could have just refilled at the next aid station.
Well, despite a feeling of relief after having finally used the restroom, this was the beginning of the end for me. Mentally it was a blow realizing I had lost over 1 minute for the stop, but for some reason my legs were now quite heavy. Completely stopping after running 14 fast miles is probably not ideal. My legs literally went from feeling decent to feeling like crap. I tried to shake it off, reminding myself that I had a while to go and that I couldn’t judge my race based on how I felt in this moment. A steep uphill was ahead (despite the net decline course, there are a few nice inclines as well), and I downed my next Gu quickly so that I wouldn’t have a full mouth as I headed up it. That also proved to be a mistake as the Gu plus the adrenaline created a massive spike in my heart rate and I started to feel very odd and hyped up, but not in a good way. I felt the energy draining out of my body. I slowed my pace and allowed my heart rate to come back. I made my way up the hill and continued on.
Mile 15 clicked off at 9:22. My 1 minute cushion at the halfway mark was now depleted and my body wasn’t giving me the signs that I was going to miraculously start feeling amazing. I was able to run 8:03 pace for mile 16 (which has over 100 feet net decline despite some inclines) but wasn’t feeling great still. The sun had come out in full force, and although parts of the race were shaded by trees, much of it was not. And, to make matters even worse, the headwind that I already knew would be a force to reckon with (but which I previously didn’t consider a problem), had made it’s appearance and was brutally blowing in my face (at least it helped with the heat). This is when things went south. I was tried. I had 10 miles to go. I wanted to fight, but I didn’t have it in me. I tired to convince myself that I could still do it and even said outlaid to myself “Don’t give up!” I reminded myself of all the hard work I put in and that I didn’t come here to run a mediocre race.
The 3:38 pace group had passed me while I was in the bathroom. A guy came up next to me and said “We have to go catch our loud mouthed pacer – I lost them when I stopped or the bathroom.” I guess he must have seen me earlier and assumed I was wanting to run with the group (and yes, the pacer was quite loud, I noticed this when I passed him earlier). I didn’t correct him and then asked him if I could run behind him to block myself from the now pretty fierce headwind. He told me he had been doing the same to me for the last few minutes and he didn’t mind at all. I got behind him and tried to keep up but I could not. Mile 17: 8:18.
I spent the next few miles trying to go as fast as I could. I stopped looking at my watch and just did my best. I tried to find people to run behind to block the wind but it was difficult to find someone at my exact pace (plus I’m pretty sure I creeped a few people out). Around mile 18 I saw Mike, who ran with me for a bit and told me that I was less than 1 minute behind the 3:38 group and the 3:32 group was only 4 minutes ahead of that. He tried to convince me that I could do it and for a minute, I believed him. I tried to pick up the pace and catch up and I did make up some time, but I didn’t have it in me. My legs were so heavy and it was hard to get a good cadence. It was around here that I knew I wasn’t going to achieve my goal. Miles 18-20: 8:26, 8:40, 8:50.
I raised my arms and cheered when I passed through Mile 20. Only 10K to go. My goal changed from PRing to finishing as fast as I could so that I could end my suffering. We were back on the bike path now and the decline continued but was very, very gradual (about 30 feet per mile). My legs were tired. I was tired. I was ready to be done. Cardiovascularly, I wasn’t working very hard which was disappointing because I knew that I wasn’t giving it my all. I told myself I would pick it up and try to finish strong in the final 5k. Around mile 22.5 a woman passed me and I told her she looked strong. She said she was just pacing her friend and told me I was looking strong and asked what my goal for the race was. I said “Oh… It’s long gone” and suddenly got emotional. It was like I realized in that moment that I was truly not going to achieve the goal I’d worked so hard for. That I had let it go. I didn’t want to care so much, but I did.
I slowed down to catch my breath and then kept running. I cheered for people who I could tell were struggling when I passed them. I focused on just getting through each mile. When we left the bike path and entered downtown Ventura, I realized that if I ran a 24 minute 5k I could go sub 3:40. I tried to pick up the pace and follow someone who passed me but the pace was too difficult. I let my pace slow and just focused on finishing. Because I’d run so many miles in training, 3 miles seemed really manageable. Miles 21-23: 8:43, 9:03.
One of the most brutal portions of the course is in these final miles as you run down a main street in Ventura and up a gradual hill with no shade to protect you from the direct sunlight. The street is also slanted which makes for an even greater challenge. Along this portion is where I saw Mike for the last time and I threw him my water bottle, as planned. I was so glad to be rid of it (I didn’t mention it earlier, but one thing that was tough about carrying the water bottle on this course was that the aid stations are relatively short which makes it hard to completely fill your water bottle while maintaining pace). Miles 24-25: 9:16, 9:49.
When I finally rounded the corner at the top of the gradual hill, I faced a steep decline that was pretty rough on the legs at this point in the race. Finally, I was running along the ocean, faced with the wind again, but at least it was beautiful! I tried to convince myself to run as fast as I could for the final mile, but I didn’t have much motivation. Mile 26: 9:25.
The spectators showed up for the final 0.2 miles or so of the course and it was fun to run through the finisher chute. I “picked it up” to a 8:33 pace and finished, so relived for it to be over, my legs feeling like led. I finished in 3:42:22, a respectable time. All I wanted to do was lie down.
I went through the finisher area and then headed right to the beach where I leaned against a rock and cried.It didn’t help that I could hear the BQ “gong” going off every 30 seconds, hammering in my failure over and over again. I gave myself a few minutes to be sad and then moved on. As Lauren Fleshman has said, “To choose your method of suffering is a privilege.” Marathons are mine. The day may not have gone as I planned, but I am thankful to be healthy, fit, and financially secure enough to run one. Not everyone can say the same and I know I am lucky (even if I am a little crazy to choose to suffer in the first place). Even in that moment I didn’t regret training for or running the marathon. I loved the training and I’ll take this failure and learn from it, just as I have with all the others.
Mike joined me and we went back to the finisher area and congratulated friends who finished. I knew a few people who achieved their goal that day (my friend Crystal BLEW it out the water and qualified for Boston on second marathon, I’m so proud of her!) but the vast majority of people I knew who raced also missed their goals. It was a tough day out there!
Mike and I showered and then got a beer and lunch before driving home. On the way, I started to feel sick but figured it was the junk food I ate after the race. By 5 PM I was vomiting and I couldn’t keep anything down, including sips of water, until the next morning (and now Mike has the same thing, so we know it was a bug not related to dehydration or heat). It was a really, really miserable evening and it felt like the universe was shouting at me to never run another marathon. My friend Sam later told me that her entire family was sick, including her newborn son who I held for 30 minutes on Saturday, who they had to take to the hospital.
The flu thing really threw me a curve ball. Of course Mike and I spent a lot of time Saturday before I got sick wondering what happened. I knew in my heart and soul that I had my goal time in me. My coach had even told me that he thought I could run under 3:29. I’ve never trained harder, I’ve never felt fitter, I’ve never been more confident, and I’ve never run a “faster” course. But, I ran my 3rd fastest marathon. My legs were thrashed – At 5’9” and a larger frame, am I simply too big to be a fast marathoner? Is the pounding from a downhill course too hard on my body? Despite all the hill and strength training I did, were my legs STILL not strong enough to keep up? Because my legs couldn’t keep up, I never got to test my cardio system, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the problem. Or am I simply not mentally strong enough to push through the pain like I should have been able to? Did my bathroom break totally screw up my legs because I stopped so abruptly? Do I need to re-think my pre and during race fueling? Or was I just battling early symptoms of the flu and I was doomed from the start? I hate to blame this race on the illness because I do want to take responsibility for my actions and learn from them. The problem is, I’ll really never know exactly what went wrong. But what I can do is think through things and make adjustments. The unfortunate thing about marathons is that you can’t just go run another one the next weekend and try a new strategy.
In the end, each marathon teaches us something. As I’ve said countless times, I don’t run marathons for the race itself, I run them for the training and the teamwork. Every training cycle pushes me, challenges me, excites me, makes me proud, humbles me and makes me a better runner. Every race does the same. And while the time on the clock may not always meet my expectations, it truly doesn’t matter. What matters is that I enjoy this sport. And despite the way it sometimes torments me, I truly do love it.