This race was run on June 2, 2013, but I have taken FAR too long to write up the post. It was an amazing race and it always feels overwhelming to me to try to capture every bit of races that are this special to me – hopefully I can do it justice! But today is a particularly auspicious day to finally post this, since it also happens to be Blake’s birthday! If you have a spare 20 seconds/two clicks, please click to tweet and wish her a happy birthday. I know I’m posting this late in the night (it took me forever!), but even if you’re reading this a bit later, I know she’d love it :)
(To catch up on the first half of this report, check out my review of Spirit of the Marathon II.)
Blake, JP, and I had to leave the movie Q&A early to even half-catch our dinner reservation (we were 45 minutes late, but it was so worth it to see the movie). However, I felt a little better when we bumped into Deena Kastor in the lobby, who was similarly ducking out for her dinner reservation :) I half wondered if we’d see Deena at our restaurant, which had come to us highly recommended as the best pasta in San Diego, but no dice. Bencotto had a fabulous dinner, and JP, Blake, and I enjoyed ourselves immensely as we ordered a massive spread of food. I think we ordered four appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts, plus the bread basket! The portions were pretty big, though, so I was really glad we hadn’t done as Blake and JP had originally wanted and ordered a fourth entree to share (though the food was that good). Hungry runners, indeed! I also fell quite in love with one of the desserts, the Semifreddo al Mandorle, and basically had to get JP and Blake to take it away from me before I ate the entire thing myself. SO good! That plus a few glasses of delicious wine made me sleep quite well :)
I woke up still thinking about Spirit of the Marathon II, and was so pumped to run. We get to run a marathon, just like those people in the movie! How lucky are we?! I got ready pretty quickly, but when I went downstairs to meet JP and Blake in the lobby, I realized that Blake wasn’t feeling quite the same way. In fact, she was in a really bad mood and kept making I’m-serious-if-you-let-me jokes about dropping down to the half. I tried my best to reassure her. This race was going to be so fun! She was going to become a full marathoner! And it was a really nice day for a run! I truly did believe that last part to be true when I said it, though I later realized it was just a tiny bit more humid than would be ideal. We chose to walk to the start (approximately 1 mile), and our hotel had thoughtfully provided maps of both the race course and the walking route to the start. So helpful! But when we headed out of the hotel, all we saw around us were runners wearing half marathon bibs – and the half marathon was starting an hour after the full. Had we screwed up and left too late? Anxious about this, the walk to the start seemed to go on forever. In actuality, though, it was a nice, easy walk, and we arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare – especially since we weren’t checking any bags. With such beautiful weather, there was really no need! Instead, we got to just people watch in the crowd.
It was at the start that we finally took the time to pin on our bibs, and it was at this point that I started becoming the “official photographer” of the group. Race photos can be so ridiculously expensive (although I get the business model – you have to charge a high price on the few pictures you do sell in order to pay the photographers for being out there all day and getting all the bad pictures you can’t sell), and I thought it’d be nice if I was instead able to get a lot of shots of JP and Blake that I could give them for free. Plus, I could live-tweet their progress and get extra encouragement from friends! Now that is my idea of a fun way to run a marathon :)
The start was a little bit strange – instead of the half and full marathoners starting together, the half marathoners would start after us. That’s not totally atypical, but the part that was weird to me was that the half marathoners were all already at the start, and standing next to the corrals watching us before it was their turn to line up. Usually if the races start separately, the half marathon starts late enough that I don’t have “all eyes on us”! I was, however, grateful for the extra space in the corrals. It was packed enough as it was! The gun went off and off we went. Right away, I found a great reason to smile – a guy dressed as a jester was perched on top of a soapbox that read “Are you there yet,” with a sign that said “Only 26 to go.” He was indeed a quarter mile of the way in – props for planning!
The first mile turned out to have tons of great spectators in funny costumes – my personal favorite being the drag queen cheerleaders.
Those first two miles were very crowded, but I was pleased that everyone seemed to be running about the same pace, so we weren’t having to do as much bobbing and weaving as I would have thought. Although we had started toward the back of the corrals, that was the perfect pace for us – we were taking it easy and I was excited for all the fun that lay ahead! There was lots of fun music to pump us up, and I kept darting ahead to grab pics of JP and Blake as much as possible.
Just before entering a park, I saw something really fun – a runner dribbling a basketball! I had seen jogglers before, but never someone dribbling for a whole marathon. I tried to chat with him about it, but that caused him to lose his concentration and send the ball rolling down the street – yikes! Guess I had better keep my talking to myself.
But when we entered the park, I saw lots of fun people to talk to. There was a group of Team In Training people who had North Texas shirts on – our people! I excitedly cheered “Go Dallas!”, and proceeded to do that again and again as we would each pass each other multiple times over the next few miles. For now, though, we were just passing mile 3. And when we hit the 5K mark and checked our watches, I got really excited – we had run that 5K even faster than when we all ran the Santa 5K in Texas in December! (Not that we were doing it for time, but, still – time to celebrate!) We headed out of the park and through a series of rolling hills – but mostly downhill. Hooray for that! After crossing a bridge, we turned a corner around a curve and found a whole bunch of high school cheerleaders screaming and yelling for us. Although I love small races and Rock N Roll marathons are huge, there is definitely something to be said for having so many people so excited for your accomplishment. I was so excited about Blake and JP’s first marathon and found it super fun to have someone else be just as enthusiastic :) Meanwhile, because I was tweeting like crazy, we were also getting a lot of love from friends and family at home – like one of our Flywheel instructors, who was cheering us on from Dallas! This is one of the reasons I love tweeting while running: it’s a great way to get support from people who can’t be at the actual race. And I love that the fitness community is so supportive of things like this! It wasn’t a bike race, so I thought that was so awesome that our spinning instructors were cheering us on.
We circled down (on a great hill) and around downtown San Diego, passing dangerously close to the finish line. I’ve done a lot of races that pass the finish line before you actually get there, and I think placement is so important. The Vermont City Marathon course of 2008 and 2009 had you pass the finish line at mile 25.9, which was agony; passing it in San Diego, at mile 5.5, didn’t seem nearly as bad. Plus, the crowds that lined the streets of downtown acted as a great pick me up! Passing mile 6, where we could see our comfy hotel nearby, was a little bit tougher – but we were still hitting dead even splits at this point.
Just after that, we crossed the 10k mark – and I reminded Blake of when she used to consider a 10K a long distance race. How things had changed! One of my most prized possessions is a sneaker ad that I tore out of a Runner’s World years ago and put on my wall. It’s a picture of two women running, and the caption is, “Our short runs used to be our long runs.” I don’t know why, but that has stuck with me over the years as so poetic. I remember when I couldn’t even run a mile, and thinking about that makes every single 26.2 magical and special to me. We are capable of doing so much more than we think we can, and I think training for and running a marathon is such amazing proof of that.
Speaking of “capable of much more than we think” – the next few miles started to get a bit tough for Blake. We had a lot of hills to content with, but even so, her pace was slowing more than I knew it ought to. We passed through a cool tunnel of disco lights at mile 7, but the hill continued upward after that. We were now headed out of town, which is never a cheery moment in a race (“why are we going away from the finish line?”), but the moment when I could really tell that Blake’s motivation had waned was when we passed an antique store at mile 9 and she first debated stopping (no way!) and then started busily trying to figure out our location so she could come back and buy a bunch of things after the race. Leave it to Blake to be shopping during a marathon! ;)
I racked my brain trying to think of good motivational tactics. I knew exactly how she felt, because I’ve been there in many a race. Why push harder when the finish line is still a million miles away? 17 miles left seemed rather endless, and it can be hard to motivate yourself to pick up the pace when you know you’re going to have to be picking it up for a very long time. But when we got to mile 10, I knew what to say. “Blake, we’re at mile 10 and the clock is only at 2:03 – you can totally PR in the half marathon if you just keep a solid pace for the next 3 miles!” Like magic, and like I knew she would, her pace suddenly got a lot faster. This is a perfect example of why big goals also need smaller goals to go with them. It can be tough to look at the big picture (17 miles away), but it’s a lot easier to focus on the next milestone toward your bigger goal when it’s only 3 miles down the road. As we turned up a highway exit ramp with me pointing out how exciting it was to be in the double digits, others around us got excited too. We were doing this!
We circled around a hairpin turn coming off the exit ramp, and soon found ourselves in a pretty park overlooking the water. There were lots of hotels and resorts along the way, and many people seemed to be out having breakfast and watching the race with curiosity. I have always wondered what it would be like to be surprised by a marathon coming through where you are living/vacationing, but since I am pretty much a MarathonGuide addict, I doubt I’ll ever get surprised by one – chances are if there’s one where I am, I’m running it! :)
We curved around a cute little plaza, inching closer to mile 13, and I kept checking my Garmin to give a countdown to Blake and JP. With a goal in mind, Blake was really giving it her all to get to that halfway point and PR, and as we neared it, I knew it was going to be a big one. Sure enough, when we crossed the 13.1 chip mat, it turned out to be a six minute half marathon PR for Blake! Amazing – and again, proof that you never really know what you’re capable of achieving.
From here on out, though, we decided to take it easy – and our first order of business was a two minute stretch break in the grass overlooking the bay. Since it was JP and Blake’s first marathon, any finish would be a PR, and we just weren’t in the mood to really push hard. In retrospect, I wish I had set a new goal for all of us to finish under 5:45 (which would have been totally doable). While the race of the race was tough, I think there were definitely times when we went slower than we could have/should have, and I think a large part of that blame falls squarely on my shoulders for not setting a new mini-goal for all of us.
But back to the race in progress. I was thrown off a little bit at this point by developing some yucky knee pain, probably from the camber in the road. I never do well on cambered roads, and this was not exception! I knew that it would go away with some rest, but for now, I still had another 12 miles to get through. Spotting an aid station, I stopped and grabbed some Biofreeze to smear directly on my knee, plus some aspirin. From here on out, I kept grabbing Biofreeze at just about every station. Injuries are no fun!
We headed back up another exit ramp, passing a radio station tent along the way that was blasting music and giving out prizes. I snagged a big sticker that I jokingly slapped on JP’s back, beginning a short game of “pass-the-sticker.” Meanwhile, Blake was chugging along at a pretty constant speed, despite the fact that she wasn’t in a great mood. Honestly, while I was excited for her to PR, this was the point in the race where I really admired her. It is really easy to run a marathon when you’re in a great mood, when you’re having fun, and when you’re going to PR; on the other hand, it is really hard to finish a marathon when you’re not feeling it!
Next we headed into a fun neighborhood that I hoped would cheer Blake’s spirits up a bit. For example, Crazy Man Fred was getting in his own exercise while spectating the race.
But coming up was a spectator I was really excited about. I had seen this guy at mile 17 when we were on the outbound and it was only mile 10. I was worried he wouldn’t still be there by the time we got back, but he was! I present to you, the best mile marker I have seen in any marathon, ever.
Shortly after this, though, it got tough. We were out in the heat of the day and we weren’t going as quickly as we had expected. We were taking a lot more walk breaks than we had in the first half of the race, and I could tell that Blake was getting really discouraged. I decided to send an SOS out on Twitter requesting extra motivation, and got some amazing replies from our friends!
We were really lucky to have that motivation, because the next mile marked the start of a tough incline. It wasn’t incredibly steep, but it seemed like we went up and up forever before the road finally flattened out next to a mall. It was here that a spectator yelled out what was at the next aid station: Spectator: “Water, Gatorade, and cheesecake ahead!” Me: “CHEESECAKE?!?!” (While most runners would never touch the stuff during a race, I was very psyched for this development.) Spectator: “Haha yeah, well, Cheesecake Factory is over there in that mall! Haha.” I was so pissed off. Mile 19.5 is not the time to promise a reward and then not deliver!
We turned off the main road and onto a highway, one side of which had been conveniently blocked off for us, and it was here that we came upon the 20 mile mark. Checking in with Blake and JP, I learned that despite the lack of motivation, we had actually hit the 20 mile mark two minutes ahead of Blake’s time when she ran just twenty miles. And today she was running 26.2! Amazing.
But what was not so amazing was the hill that lay ahead of us. It was about a mile long, and everyone in our vicinity slowed to a walk in order to tackle it. Even walking it wasn’t that easy, so we took a few picture breaks as we went up. I also asked JP how he was feeling, and his reply was, “Like the Pillsbury Doughboy on his way to a baking competition.” Yikes! Meanwhile, despite the knee pain that was still plaguing me (even more so on this stupid cambered highway), I was in a ridiculously good mood.
But at long last (seriously, it was almost a full mile!) we reached the top of the hill – and found ourselves in a neighborhood that had some shade. I jogged ahead to pick up some drinks/snacks at the aid station so that Blake and JP wouldn’t have to go out of their way to fetch them. Shortly after that, we turned a corner to spy one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen in my life.
Next we had a long straight trek on a road with tons of ups and downs – and despite the cheers of spectators tailgating, Blake was not having a good time. At this point, I basically just tried to shut up instead of being all Pollyanna/cheerleader. I could tell that I wasn’t improving her mood, and more than anything, I just wanted her to be happy. Although the last five miles of a marathon are tough, they are so negligible compared to all the miles and time spent in training and in the first 80% of the race. I knew without a doubt that Blake and JP were going to finish, but I also knew that they weren’t really having much fun doing it, and I felt really terrible about that :(
After heading down a side street with some tailgating spectators that offered us limearitas (ew, Adam, I do not know how you can possibly drink these – awful!), we hit mile 23 and a pretty park. Only three miles left, but they were not easy ones! Three miles seemed a lifetime away, especially when confronted with another uphill at the edge of the park. Hooray for the Taiko drummers who at least tried their best to drum some energy into us?
At last, at long last, we headed out of the park and caught the 25 mile marker. Only one mile to go!!! I was so excited for the grand finish, and was also excited to see Blake and JP perk up considerably. They were going to finish strong! It was incredible to watch them hold hands as they ran, encouraging each other. What an amazing couple to go through all that training and now the race together! I was so very happy for my friends, and almost wishing I could leave them alone in each other’s company…
…almost! There was no way I was going to miss getting to see two of my best friends achieve such an amazing goal and cross the finish line. Despite some hills at the end, they ran the very last mile so hard and so strong – even picking it up to a sprint when the end was in sight. And less than fifteen minutes later, they had done it – they were marathoners.
I am so, so, so proud of Blake and JP for their amazing accomplishments. They trained in the Texas heat while balancing insanely demanding jobs, and when they woke up on a muggy day without the wonderful mood that would have helped make this easier, they still didn’t give up. They PRed in basically every distance in the race (10K, half marathon, 20 mile, and of course, full marathon), and they did it all together while encouraging each other on. I really hope that someday I will find that kind of partner to go through the experience together, and I hope that my company wasn’t so annoying that they’ll agree to do another race with me someday very soon :) This may not have been my fastest race but it was truly one of the best marathons I’ve ever run, because I got to run it with my friends.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 6066/6494
Gender place: 2515/2769