Friday, February 14, 2014

Waves at The Surf City Marathon

Life is like an ocean, constantly moving and changing direction.  Sometimes the waves of life lift you up, other times they wash over and leave you gasping for air.  Runners experience ups and downs during training and racing, and marathoners especially find themselves surfing through waves of good and bad.

The 2014 Surf City Marathon was an important race for me for numerous reasons.  On a personal level, I hoped for some clear thinking time – I was hoping to identify a wave heading up, and locate a path to move towards it.  On a running level, I was seeking some redemption after last year’s event, when I was quite literally gasping for air and had a poor race.

I flew out on Friday and was pleased to find nice cool weather in Southern California.  I took care of some work, rested up a bit in the hotel, chatted with friends, and got a pizza for dinner.  During some music sharing I came upon a song that would be my theme for the weekend – Shinedown’s “Second Chance”.

Saturday was a busy day, starting off with an awesome early morning shakeout run with my friend and fellow San Francisco Marathon Ambassador Christopher Marana Malenab.  We did a quick 10k while comparing race strategies and planning our “AfterNuun Run” Ragnar Relay Team.

After the run I cleaned up and headed to the expo.  My friend Joe Taricani, producer of The Marathon Show podcast, was shooting video for his inaugural TV production, and I helped out for a few hours.  It was so fun to see the behind-the-scenes work, and to watch Joe in action.  A few of my friends were there helping too, including Andrea, Kristina, and Eddie.  And of course the seaside setting was amazing!

At noon, we had a fun “Tweetup” at the Nuun Hydration booth.  Another SFM Ambassador, Jody Stoops, joined Chris and I along with a few others to have a little social media fun.  We handed out some freebies, talked about the new “California Dreaming” incentive for anyone who does both Surf City and San Francisco Marathons (or half-marathons), and blitzed Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook.

I spent a lot of time at the expo – something they say you should not do the day before the marathon – but it was tons of fun and I got a chance to spend time with a bunch of friends from all over, many of whom I don’t see very often.  Social media makes it easy to stay in communication, but it’s a great thing about the marathon running community that we can meet up at a race and go straight in to friendship mode.  Several of my marathon friends had talks with me that went far deeper than just superficial small talk, and it’s such a blessing to have them in my life.

I left the expo at mid-afternoon, after picking up my friend Yolanda’s race packet – her flight was running late and she wasn’t sure she’s make it to the expo.  I met up with Eddie and Kristina for lunch and drinks at BJ’s Brewhouse, and we had a great time discussing important stuff ;-)

My plan was to go out for dinner with a few Marathon Maniacs, but later in the day my stomach began to feel quite bad.  I’m convinced it was the pizza from Friday night, but whatever it was, I decided I needed to take it easy.  So I hung out and was fortunate to have some support and advice from friends back in Tucson.  When I got up the next morning, it wasn’t much better, so I wasn’t able to eat my usual pre-race bagel (normally I try to eat a bagel 2-3 hours prior to race start).  It’s very unusual for me to have stomach issues before a marathon – this was definitely making me feel like I was on one of those downward waves.  Not a good feeling to have before a marathon.

I drove to the beach with Chris and Stacy.  We were all a bit nervous and excited.  One nice thing about this race is that they leave the expo tent up and runners are allowed to hang out inside to stay warm.  Although Huntington Beach was warmer than much of the country, the cool air and ocean humidity makes it cold for an Arizonan!  At 6 a.m. we took a short walk to a bridge, where the Marathon Maniac’s pre-race group photo was staged.

I realized I had lost my sunglasses, which was a big problem!  I had a spare pair in the car, and decided to run back to get them – unfortunately this was only about 20 minutes before the start and the car was quite far away, but I knew the sun would be a problem for me if I didn’t get them.  So at the start, I was already feeling discouraged by my upset stomach, lost shades, and unplanned warmup run.  I decided this was not going to be a perfect race, and that I would target a 3:10 pace.  I started off slow, and my legs felt stiff.  Right from the start, I was having fears.

As the miles went by, though, I began to feel better.  I saw friends a few times at places where the course doubled back, and the weather was nice.  Fan support is very good at Surf City and the aid stations well-managed.  I began to risk slight speed-ups and at the halfway point, I was at about 1:31, far ahead of a 3:10 pace.  I began to worry a bit that maybe I was going too fast, but decided to keep pushing ahead.  Around miles 16 – 18, I found myself running near a small pack and we hung together.  I don’t run with music, but songs go through my head as I run – during that time I was hearing the old Bad Company song, “Running With the Pack”.

I eventually pulled ahead of the pack and was solo from there on.  The range from mile 20 onward is when the waves really start to show – both literally and figuratively.  The Surf City course takes you along Huntington Beach and at this point it’s on the beach path, complete with surfers in the waves and sunbathers on the sand.  Figuratively speaking, it is after mile 20 in a marathon that runners often go through mood swings.  In my case, the “Marathon Mind Monkeys” usually manifest themselves in the form of feeling really discouraged or even depressed.  Sometimes songs come into my head that are very sad.  During this year’s Surf City, the last 10k included some extremely sad songs:

·      “Tears” – Rush (a very beautiful but tragic song)

When that happens, it can mean a few things.  One is that glycogen is dangerously low – time to eat something.  Surf City has an unofficial “Beer and Bacon Station” around mile 22, but when I went by it wasn’t open yet (although I could smell the bacon)!  My stomach didn’t want more gels but I forced a couple of bites down.

Another thing to do is try to re-orient your thinking to positive.  Just like a surfer might try to find a better wave to ride, a runner in the doldrums might be able to find a better thought pathway.  I tried to get my mind thinking more positively by focusing on happier songs, like “Survivor” by Muse.

When I hit mile 20, I realized that if I could pull off a fast 10k, I might just be able to get the sub-3 hour marathon that has been my goal for a long time.  My mile splits actually show a couple of fairly fast miles in that range but in the last 5k, I was hit with a combination of a fairly strong ocean breeze headwind along with an uphill climb.  My miles slowed and I lost time there, but I was still thrilled to cross the finish line at 3:02:29.  This was my second fastest marathon, and much better than the 3:10 target I had at the start.  It was also my 5th marathon in a 34-day period, and I was happy that my legs had held up.  I saw Chris, who also ran a fast race (it was the day before his birthday, and he ran another 34 miles the next day to celebrate it – beast mode!)

After the race I hung out for a long time and saw many friends at the finish line.  I had a beer with my friend Cade, met up with Alfredo and Idalia (it was Alfredo’s 105th marathon!), chatted with Marathon Goddess Julie and her husband David, and congratulated Vanessa who had just paced yet another perfect time.  Marathon Mitch and Eddie came in with Kristina for a new PR!  Stacy knocked out her second full.  Post-marathon parties are always awesome and Surf City does it right.  I also checked my results and found that I placed in my age group!  I got a nice plaque for 2nd place.

I have learned to stay an extra day if possible for recovery.  This time I also decided to stay at nice place on the beach, and enjoy some peaceful thinking time.   But it was Super Bowl Sunday, and I was fortunate to be invited to a party at a friend’s house.  The game wasn’t too exciting this year, but hanging out with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs who had just enjoyed a morning in our own sport was priceless.  The food and drink was awesome too.

I finally went back to my beach hotel that evening and ran in to a couple of friends in the elevator.  I had planned on some alone time, looking out on the ocean from my balcony, but it turned out to be so good that I met them.  Once again I was reminded that while I love the sport of marathon for the run itself, there is also a human element that is a far greater treasure than any time result or award.

I’ve run Surf City 3 years in a row, and I expect this one to be on my schedule for many years to come.  Huntington Beach is awesome, the weather is awesome, the people are awesome, the bling is awesome…I’d say it runs a close second to San Francisco as my all-time favorite marathon.

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