A few weeks ago, I ran a fast marathon in Ojai. It was so fast, in fact, that it was my fastest ever marathon – by over two minutes! I ran 3:32:27.
After PRing my 50k a few months ago, I felt like maybe I was in good enough shape to try for a marathon PR. So I hunted around for a fast course and signed up for this one – Mountains2Beach – which is one of the fastest courses out there. It’s net downhill, which is fantastic, and the weather is typically quite temperate, which is also good for running at speed.
Here are some observations from the day.
The start setup was three waves. The first wave was for runners who thought they would finish under 3:20. The second wave was for those between 3:20 and 3:40 (which is where I was supposed to start, with a 3:35 target time/ Boston qualifying time), and the third wave was for 3:40+ finishers. Waves started two minutes apart. The 3:35 pace group started in wave 2, which is where I was seeded to start as well.
I decided to start with wave 3; from previous experience, I knew that it was easier for me to catch up to other runners than to try to stay with a particular pace group. So, I gave the 3:35 group a 2 minute head start, then spent the first 8-9 miles catching them.
When I caught up to them, I ran with them for a little bit. But on one of the downhills, my legs were feeling good, so I let loose and kept going, leaving them behind.
For a while, I could actually see the 3:30 pace group, and I briefly entertained the idea of trying to catch them. Until about mile 16, it seemed possible, but my legs started slowing down. I ate a Gu and pushed through to mile 17, which psychologically was a good mile marker, as Patti had met me at 17 at Nashville a few weeks prior. So I was looking forward to that (to clarify – she wasn’t there, but I imagined she was because she’s the best cheerleader. Runners have weird minds.)
The thing about pace groups is that you know where they are even when you don’t see them. When a huge group of runners is jamming together, and one is holding a sign that says “3:35,” it’s pretty obvious to spectators what’s going on.
Around mile 21, I started hearing the crowds on the side of the road cheering for the 3:35 pace group. Which meant they were catching up. Which meant I was slowing down. And if they passed me I knew it was going to be really hard to stay with them (see “Beginning”).
One of the things I learned from Ingrid at Lake Chabot was that I could hurt when running, and things wouldn’t necessarily break. So at this point I really put on the gas. I was being chased, and I didn’t want to be caught, and running was going to hurt for a while.
The last two miles were pretty brutal. The course flattened out (no more downhill) which was a shock for the legs. The crowds cheering for the 3:35 group got louder. But I was running faster too.
At the finish chute, I gave my legs a 50/50 chance of giving out – my quads were jelly, and I wasn’t sure if my next step would land without me collapsing.
The pace group was RIGHT behind me. The sun was behind us, and I saw the shadow of the pace group sign on the ground next to me. It was RIGHT THERE.
I blasted through the finish just ahead of the 3:35 pace group, securing my PR.
- I’ve said for several years that distance runners hit their peaks in their 30s. As someone who turned 30 this year, I’m very pleased with the results so far. There were a lot of things about this race that would have thrown a younger me off, but having had the reps really helped me work through the tough parts.
- It’s weird to have to learn to say a new PR time. Sometimes the old one still pops out!
- I’m not sure I’ll actually make it to Boston, which is disappointing – just because a runner gets to register with a qualifying time under the guidance time, doesn’t mean they’ll be selected. The fastest runners get to go, and last year the cutoff time was over three minutes lower than the registration time. So we’ll see. But that doesn’t take anything away from this insane accomplishment.
The top downhill marathon I’m aware of is Saint George. 2500ft straight down.