A few weeks ago was my third race of the year – Surf City, in Huntington Beach. I chose this race for a few reasons:
- I was looking for a fast marathon
- A friend suggested this one
- It was close to my parents’ place, so I’d have a place to crash.
I’d been feeling pretty good about the race until the week leading up to it, when I got a light version of the flu. My sleep, nutrition, and hydration were pretty bad for the week ahead of the race, so I didn’t know what to expect on race day.
Also, California has been getting a lot of rain recently. The forecast for this one didn’t look great either.
The Day Before – Packet Pickup
This deserves its own section. As context:
- The race is quite large – I want to say something like 25,000 people run some distance that day, with the vast majority – about 90% – running the half marathon. So, a lot of people were trying to pick up packets.
- The race expo is in a tented structure in parking lot at the beach – near the start line. This makes access to it very challenging, since there’s pretty much only one angle of approach to get there.
- To top it off, the weather was pretty nasty. Rain was coming down in buckets. Californians are not great drivers in the rain.
So we have a lot of people trying to get to an inconveniently located destination in really bad weather.
After narrowly avoiding a traffic ticket, I secured a place to pack in a nearby parking lot and headed to the packet pickup tent. It was windy and wet – I was holding my umbrella at a 45-degree angle to keep at least part of myself dry.
Inside the tent, everything was a little bit wet. The tent was set up directly on the concrete, so water was cascading through the structure in wide rivers. I blasted through as quickly as I could, picked up my bib, grabbed my shirt, snagged a taste of some decent-looking granola bar sample, and booked it back to the car. I really hoped the weather wasn’t going to be this bad the next day.
After a nice evening with my parents and my cat ZigZag, I woke up pretty early – maybe around 3:30 – and headed up towards Huntington Beach. I left plenty of time to park, since we needed to take a shuttle to the start. The weather was looking okay. Only a few little drops on the windshield on the way. I left my umbrella in the car and got on the bus.
I was fully prepared to freeze at the start line for a while, which is one of those painful rituals that doesn’t get better with time. I’d brought a lot of extra things to stay warm, such as chemical handwarmers and plastic bags to wear. However, I met a super nice woman on the bus who had run the race a number of times before, and she let me in on a secret – the hotel next to the start line opened up their bottom-floor conference center for runners to hang out in. So I hung out in a warm, carpeted conference hall until about seven minutes before the race started. Pretty luxurious, and I wasn’t freezing.
Start Of The Race (Miles 1-15)
My goal is to run a 3:30 marathon one day. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to happen this day, but you never know unless you try. A strategy I like to use is to start with a slower pace group, then try to catch up to my goal pace group. That way I know I have between several seconds and several minutes of buffer time to spare if the pace group is going slow and I fall back.
I started with the 3:40 pace group, and promised to not overdo it – I would stay with them for the first mile, then try to track down the 3:30 pace group. This was actually pretty challenging, since I felt like I had a lot of energy – staying with the 3:40 pace group really made me modulate my pacing quite a bit for that first mile.
After that mile, I picked up the pace, and I found the 3:30 pace group around mile 5 or so. I tucked in with the two pacers and cruised. I didn’t know if I’d be able to hold it, but it was fun to chat for a bit with them, and I was moving pretty quickly.
Around mile 9, we turned onto Highway 1, which goes right along the ocean. We’d run up north a ways, turn around and run back south towards the finish line, then make another hairpin turn, run up north along a beach trail, then turn around and head to the finish line. One of the pacers called this stretch “the treadmill,” as it’s supposed to be very boring. I didn’t think it was that boring – at least it was flat – but the view could have been better, since it was still quite overcast.
Around mile 11, we started getting some droplets of rain. We were a little nervous that the skies were going to open, like they had the day before, and we’d be drenched, but this was about as bad as it got that day.
At mile 13, the pacers started debating whether or not we were on track for a 3:30. One of them thought we were, and the other one thought that we were behind.
At mile 15, we went up a slight incline, and I couldn’t keep up – I fell back a bit. I think I knew at this point that a 3:30 was not in the cards. However, I did track my race on Strava this time, since I needed to bring my phone anyway. When I looked at the splits later, I saw there were a couple of 7:40/7:45 miles in this stretch. I’m pretty sure the pace group picked up the pace quite a bit here, and that could be why I fell off. Whatever the reason, I knew that 3:30 wasn’t going to happen this time.
Middle Of The Race (Miles 15-22)
The course continued south, and around mile 17 or 18, we made our second hairpin turn and headed back north. I was going pretty slow at this point.
When we reached the next hairpin turn to head down the final south stretch, that’s when things got really hard. It turned out that, during that couple of miles of northward-facing running, a wind had picked up from the south. So now, as we headed back to the finish, we were facing a stiff headwind.
This was not awesome and I didn’t feel great about it. I also didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank by this point.
End Of The Race (Miles 22-26.2)
Around this time, a woman caught up to me who wasn’t going that much faster than I was. I picked up my pace and tried to stay with her. We went through a couple of aid stations together – she would stop for water, then come catch me, and I’d keep trucking along. We didn’t say anything, but we were definitely pacing off of each other for a while.
With about a mile to go, the 3:40 pace group – my original buddies – finally caught me. By this time, the crew had dwindled to one pacer and about three runners. I picked up the pace again to try to stay with them – I knew if I could finish with the pacer, I’d at least be under a 3:40. So that was the goal, and I basically sprinted the last mile (at least, if felt like that). I finished at 3:39 and some change.
After The Race
Even though it wasn’t a PR, or even a top three time for me, I felt pretty good. I’d worked hard on the course, and if my health/nutrition the prior week had been better, and I’d fueled better on the course, I probably could have gone faster. I worked hard and was proud of the outcome.
My Strava splits are here.
There was a second race this day – the race to the airport. I finished my run around 10:30 or so, and I had a flight at 1:45. so I took a picture at the finish line, jumped on the shuttle, got in my car, and headed to the nearest 24 Hour Fitness, which I’m strategically a member of just for situations like this. (NB: Not a shill, just really appreciate how convenient this gym is). This particular one also happened to have a hot tub, and since I was actually a little ahead of schedule, I jumped in for a few minutes before heading to the airport.
Overall, this was a fun race. I’d probably run it again – next time with better preparation the week before!