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Santa Barbara International Marathon

November 15, 2011

Talk about an impulse buy for the Santa Barbara International Marathon. It was a last minute purchase when I had marathon envy of all my friends running the New York Marathon. I pretty much had no expectation going into this race besides to come in under 4 hours and finish strong. So the new PR was so unexpected, especially on this course.  I used this as a ‘training run’ for Northface 50 miles which is in 2 weeks. I knew a PR was out of question since I haven’t followed a marathon training plan in forever and I don’t exactly do marathon pace on my long runs which are mostly on trails. Also, this was a hilly course unlike Disney (my old PR) which was flat as a pancake. And that was back in January 2010. Yeah, it’s been awhile…

Since I didn’t take this race very seriously…pre-race meal consisted of lots of awesome Mexican food at Los Agaves (best Mexican restaurant in town!). Enter enchiladas, rice, beans, lots of chips & salsa, tortilla and even after that massive feast, we went for ice-cream! Carbo-loading at it’s finest. A good sugar rush never hurt the night before…

mmm enchiladas

Clearly we hated our food

Dairy before a race? Sure why not

Since B came up with me for this short trip, he was able to drop me off right at the start line without me having to go to the finish and get a shuttle to the start. I arrived 20 minutes before the race started and met up with the 3:30 group. I knew 3:30 was way too fast, but they only had a 3 hour, 3:30 and 4 hour group. The pacer told us that he was going to take the first couple miles at a slow pace so we could warm up. I figured I could start off slow with them and then drop back to my own comfortable pace. It had rained the night before really hard but turned out to be a beautiful cool and cloudy day on Saturday. Great conditions=great running. The crowd was smaller than I expected, but I also appreciated the intimacy of smaller races.

We clocked a 8:20 for our first mile, some “warm-up”. Although it didn’t feel too fast and I wasn’t keeping track of my splits just yet, I kept my eyes focused on the pacer and made sure to never let him out of sight. It can get stressful in a pace group, especially when you’re not feeling it. But running in a tight group can also help push you along when you feel like slowing down. It also takes the guess work out of running even splits when all you have to do is follow the pacer. I tend to go out too fast or too slow and my splits are always all over the place when I start off by myself. We gradually made our way to a 7:55 pace around Mile 3 when the pacer told us to dial it in because this would be our pace for the rest of the race. He told us that the first half was easier so if we felt good, to not pull away until the halfway point. We had a pretty good size group starting and I had my eyes on this one girl who looked pretty strong. She ran ahead of the pacer most of the time, but didn’t stray far. Around Mile 8 I unintentionally broke away from the group during a downhill. I knew my strength was on the downhills so ran them a bit quicker. The group never caught up and I thought I had a good lead on the group. Apparently they were right behind me until Mile 13 (my friend stayed with the group until he saw me surge ahead and lost sight of me).

I was feeling pretty good for cranking out sub 8 minute miles on the hills and was just waiting for the wall to hit where I knew this pace would be unattainable for much longer. I took my GUs at Mile 7, 14 and 21 along with water at each aid station. Most of the course is run through neighborhoods and this really scenic bike path. We actually didn’t see the ocean until the last 2 miles of the course. I was stoked when we hit the bike path because it was almost like being on the trails with tons of trees, wooden bridge crossings and a dirt path running parallel to the bike path. I decided to push it a little more since I was feeling good and the bike path was relatively flat. The path lasted for 4-5 miles which was a pleasant surprise since I thought it would just be a short jaunt. I had my eyes on this one girl for a couple miles and as the miles went on, I could feel myself reeling her in. I couldn’t tell if that was because my pace was picking up or she was slowing down.

When I finally did catch up to her, I was so surprised because she seemed so far away at one point. I knew there would be an infamous hill at Mile 23 and right when I saw the sign for “Cliff Drive”, I knew this was it. It was a gradual hill at first, nothing too bad, but then it became a fairly steep incline for half a mile. The hill wasn’t too bad, but it just came during such a late point in the race. I ran the best I could up the hill, keeping my head down and pumping my arms. I knew once I got to the top of the hill, I would see the ocean and it would be a downhill ride from there. I was so relieved when I reached the top, but I knew my pace had dropped significantly on the hill. My legs were feeling tired and I didn’t know if I could keep up the pace anymore. I considered dropping back a little, but then the 3:30 pacer caught up to me. He had no one left in his group besides this one girl that I had passed a mile ago. I was really surprised to see him because I thought I was way ahead of the group. It wasn’t until then did I realize how close I would be cutting it to the 3:30 goal. The last 2 miles were the hardest miles ever. I didn’t want to give up and let them pass so I stayed with them, constantly pushing forward. The girl and I were both a total disaster, screaming, moaning and groaning in pain. We kept pushing each other that we could do it and that we were close. We were running a 7:30 pace the last 2 miles and they felt so hard. The pacer told us to keep it together and breath deeply because it sounded like we were hyperventilating and about to pass out. I know something in me has changed from when I ran this race and my last road marathon at Big Sur. All that endurance training really paid off these last 2 miles. I was able to withhold the pain and push faster and faster even though I felt like I would pass out any second. The finish line felt so far but the pacer said we would just round a corner and finish on the track. Once my legs hit the track and the finish line was in sight, I pushed it. The girl surged in front of me and the pacer yelled at me to GO. I gave it everything I had and clocked in at 3:29:27.

Utterly spent, I collapsed onto the track. I had never raced so hard in my life and I couldn’t believe that not only did I come in under 4 hours, but I had PR’ed by 7 minutes. I haven’t PR’ed in a road marathon in so long I almost forgot how it felt. I had no expectations going into this race. I just told myself that I would do my best out there and give it everything I had. I knew in order to do well, it would hurt and it did. Honestly the pace I was going at for 24 miles felt relatively “comfortable” which was surprising. It was only the last 2 miles where I felt like I couldn’t go any faster. I guess all those long runs on the trails and track workouts have paid off. This weekend proved that endurance builds speed. I had no idea I had it in me to run a 7:59 pace for 26.2 miles, but damn it felt good to know that I still had some speed left in me even after all the trail work.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even think about Boston until after I had crossed the finish line. It was a completely different feeling than at Disney where qualifying for Boston was the only thing on my mind from Miles 1-26. Boston was more like an afterthought this time around. I will probably run it again in 2013, but it is not a big deal if I don’t do it again. I have my eyes set on completing a 100 mile race next year and that’s what I really want to focus on. My overall place was 10th women and 3rd in age group. Not too shabby for someone who barely runs on the road. I have a 50K this weekend in Montana De Oro, another “training” run for Northface. Clearly, I am scared shitless for this race even though I did it last year. My goal is to come in under 12 hours and not want to kill myself the last half of the race. I know I am way more trained than I was last year, so hopefully the experience will be more memorable this time around.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2011 5:17 am

    This was one of the best stories!!!
    So proud of you!
    Trails ROCK for training!
    You’ve just proved it to everyone else again!
    Big Hugs and Congrats!

    • November 23, 2011 6:47 am

      Thanks M! Congrats to you on the PCTR race! Sounds like we had similar weather that day

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