Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Half Moon Bay Marathon - 9/25/11

Choosing which of the many marathons out there to do is always a hard choice. This year I chose the Half Moon Bay Marathon for a few reasons. It was its inaugural running, the course would probably be one of the most scenic there is, and the timing fit in nicely with my life. The few weeks leading up to the race I was feeling really good. I'd been on top of my training, even incorporating hill runs, tempo runs, and intervals. With the help of my running group, all my long runs were going extremely well. And then, three weeks out, I strained my calf. I have no idea how, all I knew was I couldn't run without it cramping into a tight knot. I didn't even know if I could run the race. With the help of my sports med doctor and taking two full weeks off, I was able to test it out the week of the race to see if it would hold up, and thankfully it looked like it would.

As the race approached during that last week, I was surprisingly not that nervous. I think I was just so thankful that I was just going to be able to run it. The only real anxiety I had was whether or not the calf would be able to make it the entire distance. I was up at 4:30a on race morning eating an english muffin with peanut butter and drinking a cup of coffee when it finally hit me; today I would be running another marathon. Even though it'd been 13 months since the last one, I still remembered exactly how it felt to run that long, and that's when I started to get nervous.

Annelyse, who was running the half marathon, and I drove in the dark to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay where the start and the finish were held. We made our way to the start area and could see the steam coming off of the water, and the sun getting ready to peak through on the horizon. After a few pre-race pictures, a live singing of the national anthem, and a small freak out on my part for not having my watch prepared, we lined up in the corral. Annelyse and I said our good lucks, and before I knew it, my 26.2 mile journey with 111 other runners had begun just before sunrise.


We started off running through the local fishing harbor, and we were soon headed on a dirt path toward Mavericks, the site where the big wave surf competition is held annually. This was our first turnaround point, and from there we headed north toward the Point Montara Lighthouse. This is where we were hit with the hilliest part of the course. We came off the dirt trails and ran through a residential neighborhood of HMB, where many of the locals were out on their porches, drinking their morning coffee, and cheering us on. I started talking to a fellow runner, who I learned had just had a baby not long ago, and this was her first race back after pregnancy. Turns out she'd completed some full Ironmans in the past which is thoroughly impressive, so I took the opportunity to ask a lot questions about what that was like since I've always had a huge curiosity about what it takes to be able to do those (not that I ever want to). Chatting with people definitely makes the miles go by faster.

(The trail out to Mavericks)

It was just before mile 6 that we reached the northern most part of the course where the lighthouse at Point Montara was. From here we turned around and headed back to Mavericks, and then back passed the start. We ran south along the coastal trail with incredible views the entire way. The race was very well staffed with cheerful and supportive volunteers all along the course directing us on the correct paths. The courses terrain was a combination of roads, bike paths, and a lot of dirt trails. Eventually the half marathoners started passing us going in the opposite direction to the finish. This gave me a chance to briefly see Annelyse as we passed at what must have been my mile 15.

(Coastal Trail)

My pace remained relatively steady, but I was starting to tire, so I dropped it a little knowing I had a long way to go. Miles 15-20 I feel are mentally the toughest. You've been out there for a long time, yet you still have such a long way to go. Eventually I saw the Ritz Carlton which I knew was just before the last turnaround point. We ran by the the well manicured golf course out to the bluff where the grandiose hotel sat overlooking the ocean. Guests were sitting watching us run by, and enjoying the bagpiper who was arranged to be out playing for all us marathoners. The uphill as we passed the bagpiper was brutal, but soon we found ourselves at the final turnaround point at mile 19. Finally, I was heading back to the finish and not away from it.

(Ritz-Carlton Hotel photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton)

We followed the same path along the coast back to the finish. Miles 19-22 saw my pace drop, but not substantially. That didn't come until mile 23. Just as miles 15-20 are mentally tough, miles 20-26 are physically tough. You know your close and you know you'll be able to finish, but physically you're body just doesn't want to go on. I played every trick I could think of to just keep moving forward and not letting myself stop to walk. I held on OK until mile 23, at which point, everything just hurt. I kept telling myself, just make it to the mile 25 marker, because from there it's just a litte over an easy mile to the finish.

Near mile 23 I came upon a guy who was running his first marathon who happened to be from the town next to the one I grew up in. One of the cool things about this race was that everyone who was running their first full marathon were given red bibs, so they could be easily spotted and given extra encouragement. He asked if he could run with me for awhile since he was cramping and needed the motivation to keep going. We were both hurting pretty bad, and I had to apologize for my poor conversational skills. Eventually we separated, but it was reassuring hearing him behind me for the remainder of the race. The last few miles all I could think about was one foot in front of the other, and that's what I did. Soon after mile 25, I saw the finish in the distance. Almost done. All along the course were motivational signs, but my favorite had to be the one after mile 26 that said "You look marvelous".

(crossing the finish line)

I picked up my pace and ran up the hill toward the finish. Being that there were only a 100 or so people running the race, I was the only one coming in at the time, and everyone cheered me in. I crossed the finish line completely wiped with a 3:52 time. I had nothing left in me, and had a hard time even walking over to Annelyse who was my biggest fan throughout all of my training. After shoving a cliff bar in my mouth, and sipping on a jamba juice, I checked my stats and found out I'd finished 3rd in my age group. Two weeks after the race, the organizers sent me a nice 3rd place finisher's plaque. During the race, I remember thinking it would be great to go to Half Moon Bay Brewing company to get a beer, but I couldn't even stand without everything hurting. I just wanted to collapse in the car, so it was clearly time to go.

(yes, it was hard to even smile at this point)

My goals changed for this race when I got the calf injury. They went from really trying to pull out a fast time, to just being able to run it. My secondary and tertiary goals were to be able to run the entire thing without walking, and to finish with a sub-4:00 time. Thankfully, my training wasn't comprised too much because the time I took off was during my taper period, so while I did lose a little conditioning, I'd already done all the hard work. I accomplished all of my goals, and I'd beaten my previous best marathon time by 40 minutes. Annelyse drove us home where we both celebrated PRs with beer champagne and red velvet cupcakes while watching the 49er game. I was on top of the world, and couldn't be happier.

(post race treats)

This was a fantastic race. It was small, well organized, filled with friendly volunteers and residents, and most of all, breathtakingly beautiful. You can see a flyby of the entire course here. There's one thing that I learned the next day that really touched me. During the course, I kept seeing a man running with a pink rose in his hand. Every time I passed him, he had a huge smile. I had assumed the rose had something to do with breast cancer awareness, and I found out that he lost his wife to cancer four months ago. He was not a runner, she was. He ran in her memory, and like the three previous races he did, he carried a pink rose, and left it at the finish line in her honor. It's hearing things like this that remind me how running means so many different things to different people, and how thankful I am to be able to do it.

Race stats:
Overall female: 6th of 45
Age Group: 3rd of 21
Chip time: 3:52:28 (8:52 avg pace) - race was .21 miles long
GPS time: 3:50:17 (8:47 avg pace)

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