Marathon PR: Mountains2Beach in Ojai

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 3:23:27.

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.

Start

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

The start of wave 3. I’m in the front on the left side of the photo.

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.

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

Mile 6

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.

 

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

Mile 9

Middle

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.)

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

Mile 16

Finish

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

Mile 18.5. In the zone.

 

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.

Mountain 2 Beach Marathon & Half

This is the finish line. I am literally RIGHT in front of the pace group

After

Observations:

  • 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.

 

Runners who qualify for Boston get to ring this super sweet gong

 

Finisher!

 

The stats

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Lake Chabot 50k – new PR!

The start of the race -feeling good

A few weeks ago I ran a race at Lake Chabot (thanks again Inside Trail!). I’ve run in this area a few times before – once in 2016, and once in 2012.

If you check out the results page … I came in 3rd! But even better … I set a personal record for the 50k distance!!! This 50k is the fastest one I’ve ever run in my life, and the fastest since 2012 … which is crazy, and also pretty exciting because:

  • This is the last race of my 20s (turning 30 this weekend)
  • I’m getting faster even as I’m getting older
  • I could maybe run even faster in the future!

Here’s how it went down –

The day dawned crisp and clear – as is usual for the East Bay of California. I’d signed up for the race just a few days earlier, on Wednesday of that week, because it felt like a good time to run a race (sometimes your body just tells you).

The course is an 18 mile loop followed by a 13 mile loop. The 13 mile is a shortened version of the previous loop, so there would be some sections of the course, including a substantial out-and-back, that we’d see four times. I typically do well in races with longer out-and-backs, because I can see the field of runners, and also know what sort of terrain is coming on the way back.

At some point just before the start, I realized that I’d forgotten my GPS watch.  This was a little disconcerting, but there wasn’t much to do for it at this point. I’d also recently read an article that sometimes anchoring consistently on pace or time can actually slow runners down, so I tried to focus on that.

The first loop was pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time worrying about the runners in the 18-mile race, who would sprint past us at what seemed like breakneck speed. However, I also knew there were plenty of 50k runners ahead of me and I wasn’t really competitive, so at some point, I just settled in. The first big climb was several miles, and I’m pretty slow on the uphills anyway, so a lot of other runners drifted by me.

Around mile 7 or 8 the course has a pretty long downhill, and that’s where I felt the energy kick in. I flew down the hill, passing a lot of folks who had previously been ahead of me. I was in a pretty fantastic mood too – the scenery was gorgeous, with rolling green hills lush from rain and beautiful blue sky.

After an aid station, maybe around mile 11-12, I caught up temporarily with another runner. She was a badass – training for a 100-mile race – and somehow was just cruising up these hills. She basically had one running speed, and it was inexorable. At some point (maybe after about a mile) I had to let her go – I couldn’t keep up with her hills.

However, I still knew I was running pretty quickly and I felt pretty good. There was one point during this race where I felt so much energy, happiness, and excitement – like my heart would just burst with it – I’ve never felt that while running before. It wasn’t runners high (I’m honestly not sure what that is, but this wasn’t it) – but it was so much energy that I just didn’t know what to do with it. So I did the only thing that made sense – translate it into speed.

Another hill crest, then heading down to the end of the first lap. Miles 16-18, as we headed into the turnaround, were very flat, along the lake. This is where I knew I’d see other runners on the return, and I could figure out how far ahead of me they would be.

I saw the woman in first place about 3-4 miles ahead of me, and that was pretty disheartening. There was no way in this universe I could ever catch her – she was probably 30 minutes ahead of me. The next woman, in 2nd place, was maybe about a 1.5-2 miles ahead of me, and at that point I was pretty sure there was no way I’d place in this race.

However, for the next mile or so I didn’t see anyone – and then I saw the turnaround aid station up ahead! There were two runners just coming out of it – one was a younger woman running in 3rd, and the other was the woman I’d been running with earlier, running in 4th!

I quickly refueled and caught up to the 4th place runner – I learned her name was Ingrid. We passed the runner in 3rd place, and I started thinking about the next half-marathon of running.

Ingrid kept trying to tell me that this was “just a training run” for her so she wasn’t trying to push it, but she was a literal speed demon. She was blasting up hills and powering down the other side, and she was taking no prisoners at aid stations.  As I struggled to keep up with her, we headed into our first hill together, I was sure I’d fall back, because she was still running these hills (vs speed-walking, which is my normal approach). I settled for a run/walk combination, which translated into me running the hill as long as I could to keep up with her, then walking with long strides to not fall behind, then feeling like I was falling behind, then trying to sprint up the hill to catch her, then repeating this process.

There’s something very cool about knowing how far you can push your body, and even though I was moving up these hills faster than was strictly comfortable, I could tell I wasn’t overdoing it. I was uncomfortable, but still within the range that of not exhausting myself. So I kept following Ingrid up these insane hills.

At one point, I was sort of curious about our pace / projected finish time. I almost asked Ingrid to tell me, but then told her not to share it. I didn’t want to influence or jinx the next few miles.

Anyway, Ingrid and I stayed together for the whole second loop of the race. The last few miles we ran side by side the whole way, and we really picked it up towards the finish, flying the last flat two miles.

When I saw the finish line, the first thing I saw was the timer. We crossed the finish line at 5:19 – a full 8 minutes faster than my previous PR.

Just crossing the finish line

Ingrid and crossed the finish line together. It was really motivating to have been able to run with such a fun running buddy for the last loop. I’m 99% sure the reason for my PR was due to time made up on the hills, and that was completely due to Ingrid’s pace.

Ingrid and I sharing a trophy

Anyway, Ingrid and I exchanged phone numbers, and we’re going to do a long run together next weekend.

The trophy pre-slicing

Also, while I believe she and I tied for 3rd place, the timer indicated I finished one second ahead of her. So I had a friend cut the trophy in half (thanks Vlad!) and I sent her half of it – so now we both have half of a 3rd place trophy.

This was a great last race to run in my 20s. Looking forward to another decade of running.

 

Half a trophy